Fighting Terrorists & Unintended Consequences

By Erik Goepner

A retired Army general recently suggested that if U.S. military advisers can’t successfully train up nine Iraqi brigades within the next year, then either more U.S. forces must be deployed to Iraq or Americans will have to accept the Islamic State’s caliphate. The implicit assumption –that American effort is critical to stopping the Islamic State (or al Qaeda, or whatever similarly inspired group may follow) – is common. Yet, attempts to quantify the return on America’s investment of “effort” are rare. Typically, the debate seems influenced by either those who view any loss of life as unacceptable or those who say no 9/11 type of event has occurred since, so whatever the cost, keep it up. On the one side: We should never have invaded Iraq, on the other: If we had not left when we did, things there would be better.

A Rudimentary Assessment

One way to look at America’s effort is to tally the amount of money spent fighting terrorism and the number of military members who have been deployed to the fight. That effort could be compared to the number of terrorist events which have occurred. Recognizing efforts typically take time to have an impact, the money and manpower effort for this basic assessment lagged a year, so the impact of the 2001 effort was compared to the number of terrorist attacks in 2002. In 2001, the U.S. deployed approximately 17,500 military members to fight the global war on terror and the Department of Defense spent approximately $16.6 billion[1] to support those efforts. In the intervening 12 years, the number of service members deployed to fight the war on terror peaked above 200,000[2] before settling at nearly 67,000 in 2012. During the same time, spending peaked at $184.8 billion in 2008/9 before decreasing to $125.6 billion in 2012.[3]

Across those 11 years, America’s efforts to fight terror increased dramatically. Funding rose more than 600% and military personnel support rose by nearly 300%.[4] During that time, however, the number of terrorist attacks jumped 345%. Call it unintended consequences. Call it complex and nuanced. Either way, significant research is needed, as America’s efforts, albeit noble, do not appear to be delivering the desired results. Pouring forth money is one thing, but putting America’s sons and daughters in harm’s way is quite another. We need to ensure the efforts achieve the goal.

 

Image Credit: NBC News


[1] See “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11” by Amy Belasco (Congressional Research Service), March 29, 2011

[2] See chart on p. 25 in “Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues” by Amy Belasco (Congressional Research Service), July 2, 2009

[3] See p. 4, “U.S. Costs of Wars Through 2014” by Neta Crawford, 25 June 2014

[4] See Crawford and Belasco’s reports listed above.

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