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9/11 and the National Security Scam

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National security is a scam — an $8 trillion scam.

That’s the amount spent since September 11, 2001, on the military, including the Iraq and Afghan wars, and “homeland security,” according to Christopher Hellman of the National Priorities Project. If “veterans benefits, future costs for treating the war-wounded, and interest payments on war-related borrowing” are added, Hellman writes, the cost is much higher: $11 trillion, by the estimate of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. Hellman says by his reckoning, the full cost of “security” is $1.2 trillion a year.

And yet officials say Americans must not let down their guard. The mildest calls for cuts in the rate of growth in military spending are met with panic by “defense” officials.

Considering that all that spending was triggered by a ragtag group of airplane hijackers armed with box cutters on 9/11, something just doesn’t add up. (Locks on flight-deck doors and armed pilots would have averted the attacks.) As Thomas Paine, the soul of the American Revolution, wrote in The Rights of Man about the British empire, “In reviewing the history of the English Government, its wars and its taxes, a bystander, not blinded by prejudice nor warped by interest, would declare that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes.”

In America’s case, however, it is debt, not explicit taxes, that was raised. On September 30, 2000, the national debt was $5.67 trillion. Today it is $14.7 trillion, a 160 percent increase. But debt could well represent future taxes or inflation, an implicit tax on cash balances — if the government thinks it can get away with it.

It is said that 9/11 changed everything, but in fact it changed nothing whatsoever. Opportunistic politicians simply used the attacks to do much more of what they had already been doing and were hoping to continue in greater measure. Admittedly they were good at that. The attacks gave them a unique chance to frighten Americans into acceding to whatever the ruling elite wanted. As a result, those trillions were spent with little real oversight — the overseers were part of the conspiracy against the taxpayers. Reports say that $60 billion in contract money for Iraq and Afghanistan has been diverted to unknown recipients. The Pentagon routinely loses track of billions of dollars.

The military-industrial complex has never been larger or more pervasive. Thousands of companies exist to sell expensive things to the government. Fortunes have been made. The post–9/11 period has been a feeding frenzy at the taxpayers’ trough — grand larceny of historic proportions.

The attitude was well illustrated by Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Progressive Democrat who worries that military spending might be cut because of concern about the budget deficit. Does he worry because he fears that security will diminish? No, he explained, he worries because he has military bases in his congressional district.

And people wonder why the economy is in a rut.

Of course, that is only part of the story. Monetary costs aside, the security fetish has cost Americans their privacy, turned the presidency into a virtual autocracy, and further blackened America’s reputation abroad with civilian-killing drone attacks and house raids in the night. The image of the United States has been firmly set as The Invader and The Torturer.

But isn’t all that, however regrettable, necessary because there are people out there who want to kill us? That’s what the national-security elite would like you to think. We’re told “they” attacked us because they hate our freedoms. If true, they must surely hate us a lot less now, thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act. Some say there is an intrinsic conflict between Islam and the West.

That’s all self-serving nonsense. The 9/11 attacks were intended as retribution for decades of U.S. policy that has inflicted death and misery on Arabs through support for oppressive Middle East regimes and direct military and CIA operations. The attackers committed mass murder, to be sure, but Americans won’t be safe if they don’t comprehend the danger. U.S. foreign intervention provoked the attackers, and the U.S. response played into their hands by creating more people who seek vengeance and by bleeding Americans financially.

Wherever Osama bin Laden is now, I suspect he’s laughing.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.