We're ten years from 9/11 and still in the Long War. Can we open our eyes in time?
A combined 6,197 Americans were killed in these wars as of August 16, 2011, in the name of avenging 9/11, a day when 2, 996 Americans died. The total number of American wounded has been 45,338, and rising at a rapid rate. The total number rushed by military Medivac out of these violent zones was 56, 432. That's a total of 107,996 Americans. And the active-duty military suicide rate for the decade is at a record high of 2, 276, not counting veterans or those who have tried unsuccessfully to take their own lives. In fact, the suicide rate for last year was greater than the American death toll in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has long played a numbers game with these body counts. In addition to being painfully difficult and extremely complicated to access, there was a time when the Pentagon refused to count as Iraq war casualties any soldier who died from their wounds outside of Iraq's airspace. Similar controversies have surrounded examples such as soldiers killed in non-combat accidents.
The fog around Iraq or Afghanistan civilian casualties will be seen in the future as one of the great scandals of the era. Briefly, the United States and its allies in Baghdad and Kabul have relied on eyewitness, media or hospital numbers instead of the more common cluster-sampling interview techniques used in conflict zones like the first Gulf War, Kosovo or the Congo. The United Nations has a conflict of interest as a party to the military conflict, and acknowledged in a July 2009 U.N. human rights report footnote that "there is a significant possibility that UNAMA is underreporting civilian casualties."
In August, even the mainstream media derided a claim by the White House counter-terrorism adviser that there hasn't been a single "collateral," or innocent, death during an entire year of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, a period in which 600 people were killed, all of them alleged "militants." As an a specific explanation for the blindness, the Los Angeles Times reported April 9 that "Special Forces account for a disproportionate share of civilian casualties caused by western troops, military officials and human rights groups say, though there are no precise figures because many of their missions are deemed secret."
STICKER SHOCK OF WAR
Among the most bizarre symptoms of the blindness is the tendency of most deficit hawks to become big spenders on Iraq and Afghanistan, at least until lately. The direct costs of the war, which is to say those unfunded costs in each year's budget, now come to $1.23 trillion, or $444.6 billion for Afghanistan and $791.4 billion for Iraq, according to the National Priorities Project.
But that's another sleight-of-hand, when one considers the so-called indirect costs like long-term veteran care. Leading economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently testified to Congress that their previous estimate of $4 to $6 trillion in ultimate costs was conservative. Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in D.C. — in my opinion, the best war reporter of the decade — wrote recently that "it's almost impossible to pin down just what the United States spends on war." The president himself expressed "sticker shock," according to Woodward's book, when presented cost projections during his internal review of 2009.