In July 2021, the Watson Institute of Public Affairs at Brown University reported that since September 11, 2001, 7,057 US military personnel have been killed in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. Civilian contractor deaths reached 8,000, although the institute admits this is an estimate considering many contractors were not US citizens, so some deaths went unreported. Finally, 30,177 US service members would commit suicide after their deployments to these war zones, and the number of wounded veterans is even higher, as the Watson Institute would claim:
Over 1.8 million veterans have some degree of officially recognized disability as a result of the wars—veterans of the current wars account for more than half of the severely disabled veteran population. Many additional veterans live with physical and emotional scars despite lack of disability status or outstanding claims.
Since September 11, the US government has participated in three major conflicts: the second war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and military operations in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But they have also led operations in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and in Yemen in support of the Saudi government, despite the fact that Saudi bombings and blockades pushed the country to the brink of starvation.
Twenty-three years after September 11, neoconservatives in Congress, the State Department, and the Pentagon are still pushing the same war hawk policy in Ukraine, Israel, and Syria. American foreign policy is out of step with the Constitution and the original intent of the founding fathers. It is time for the men and women who push this policy to be held accountable.
The Founders’ Intent
At the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made remarks about American leadership. He highlighted the importance of an American military presence throughout the world in order to protect “democracies’’ like Ukraine and Israel. Secretary Austin also had remarks about noninterventionists:
You know, in every generation, some Americans prefer isolation to engagement—and they try to pull up the drawbridge. They try to kick loose the cornerstone of American leadership. And they try to undermine the security architecture that has produced decades of prosperity without great-power war. And you’ll hear some people try to brand an American retreat from responsibility as bold new leadership. So, when you hear that, make no mistake: It is not bold. It is not new. And it is not leadership.
Secretary Austin needs a history lesson in the founding ideals of the United States. If what he said is true, then American figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were bad leaders. President George Washington issued a neutrality proclamation in response to the revolution in France and the subsequent declaration of war on Austria, England, and Prussia, which embroiled the whole European continent in war. In President Washington’s farewell address on September 19, 1796, he made his vision for American foreign policy clear: “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world.”
Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural address, set the principles that the government and his administration would follow, principles that were part of the spirit of the American Revolution and held a strong footing until the Progressive Era in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, these principles are deemed to be cowardice by Secretary Austin. Jefferson said, “Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”
The US government, along with its entangling alliance with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has created a situation where America has become the very thing it fought a revolution against: a leviathan empire sacrificing lives and money on overseas ventures, all the while taxing its citizens to death and destroying the value of its currency. Secretary Austin should reevaluate the costs of war.
Cost of War
We have seen the horrible cost of war through the loss and destruction of thousands of American lives and families, as well as the lives of millions overseas. Since September 11, the Carnegie Corporation of New York reported that the US has spent $8 trillion on war, and today the cost to service the national debt has surpassed that of annual defense spending. The Conference Board reported,
The US fiscal outlook continues to deteriorate, with the deficit for FY2023 topping estimates at $1.7 trillion, according to the Treasury Department’s final FY2023 budget figures. The $1.7 trillion annual deficit is $320 billion more than in FY2022 and above earlier official estimates. With these new figures, total US debt stands at $33.6 trillion. The cost of servicing US debt rose to record heights—$879 billion, a $162 billion (23 percent) increase from FY2022 because of higher interest rates on the rising national debt. The cost of servicing the US debt is now larger than annual spending on appropriations for national defense.
Not only will the future generations of America be forced to pay this debt, but the current and older generations, still employed, will face the economic consequences of endless war and easy money. The other casualty of the war-on-terror policy has been the civil liberties that were supposed to be guaranteed in the Constitution. Our politicians, military leadership, and intellectuals have continually stated that our war on terror is to protect our democracy, our freedom, and our way of life.
The facts, however, point out that the greatest threats to our freedoms come from our own government; last month, Congress approved a short-term extension of warrantless surveillance. The American Civil Liberties Union made a statement on the bill, saying,
It’s incredibly disheartening that Congress decided to extend an easily abused law with zero of the reforms needed to protect all of our privacy. As long as Section 702 is being used by the government to spy on Americans without a warrant, we will continue to fight this unconstitutional law and work with Congress to strengthen our Fourth Amendment protections against government surveillance.
Every member of the United States military takes an oath to the Constitution, but they also take an oath to obey the orders of the president of the United States. What if the president consistently violates the Constitution, or enters a war without a proper declaration of war from Congress? New Hampshire had the answer; their state legislature approved House Bill 229, which states that for the New Hampshire National Guard to deploy to a combat zone, Congress must make a proper declaration of war. If only more politicians and military leaders upheld the Constitution like this.
No one’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session. The politicians and bureaucrats, many of whom have been in office long before September 11, have learned nothing in the last twenty-four years. Nor have US citizens, who, despite having their privacy violated, continue to support politicians who push the same war hawk agenda. Founders like Jefferson and Washington would be ashamed of just how far away we have moved from the idea of liberty.