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Post-9/11 defense spending still illogical

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Nearly 10 years after the horrific attacks carried out on Sept. 11, 2001, our nation continues to struggle with the effects of that fateful morning. Unfortunately, the financial damage dealt, not even to mention the death toll, continues to increase each and every day.

Earlier this week, the Cedar Rapids Gazette concluded a monthlong investigation into how $250 million worth of Homeland Security Grants provided to the state of Iowa after 9/11 were spent. Its findings were unsettling, with gross excesses rampant in a program seemingly built to throw incredible sums of money at state and municipal agencies facing an undefined and unarticulated threat. Worst still, when prompted for details on certain equipment purchased, state officials were unable to determine where they had even placed some items.

Among the most glaring examples of this lax oversight was a nearly $100,000 video camera, purchased by the state in 2004, which the department claimed it had misplaced. Upon further examination, though, officials realized they had instead used the grant money to procure eight bomb suits. Officials later attributed the confusion to a clerical mistake.

This only furthers the theme that 9/11 reactionary spending was, and continues to be, quite literally out of control.

Of course, the inherent wisdom of hindsight makes such commentary easy to make. In 2004, the economy was performing much better, with unemployment under 6 percent (9 percent today) and a GDP growth rate hovering around 3.5 percent (1.5 percent today). And of course, the security threats seemed immeasurably more real at that point. But with current U.S. internal affairs and diminished foreign threats, cutting back on security and defense spending should seem obvious — yet no one in the federal government seems to propose it.

Although 9/11 undoubtedly changed the way we live and forced us to adopt additional security measures, it also served as a catalyst to our current financial insolvency.

The 10th anniversary of the tragic event offers an incredible opportunity to reflect on what was worth the effort, and the taxpayer burden, and what was not. Clearly, “business as usual,” in the context of post-9/11 security and defense spending, is not a rational option for future policy.

The overall costs related to 9/11, namely increases in defense and security spending, have been staggering to say the least. While it’s impossible to put a price tag on the loss of human life during the terror attacks or in the ensuing days of conflict soon to follow, some have attempted to factor out the more tangible aspects.

Al Jazeera recently calculated the number to be more than $5 trillion, while a Brown University research project earlier this summer released a report calculating the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be $3.2 trillion to $4 trillion alone.

Whatever the grand total may be, nearly everyone will agree 9/11 reactionary spending has contributed significantly to our current crisis of debt and insolvency. Regardless of party affiliation, we must stop digging these bottomless trenches of debt. This begins with making tough, realistic decisions on where America should go with its defense spending and substantial security apparatus from this point forward.

For starters, and perhaps coming as no surprise to our readers, the war on terror and the all it entails demand an immediate and thorough appraisal. In terms of budgeting, both of our ongoing war efforts (in addition to recent Libyan operations have been exorbitantly more expensive than anticipated. This does not even begin to account for the incompetence of both wars in terms of foreign diplomacy. A measured and sequential drawdown is the only logical solution left for salvaging our ledgers and national image.

On the home front, a more ubiquitous task awaits us. While Americans have reached a low point in their fear of future terror attacks, domestic agencies continue to splurge on unnecessary equipment that will never be used. Nearly $75 billion is spent annually on domestic security, with no end currently in sight. Although some of this may be necessary, many expenditures, such as the Alaskan town of 1,500 receiving $557,400 in security funds, are common-sense budget cuts.

For the sake of those who paid the ultimate price on that morning in September or have in the days following in the sweltering heat of overseas deserts, let us move forward in opening the door to a new era of rational security and defense spending — one in which we don’t live in constant fear and instead turn to face existential threats.


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