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September 11th Turns Eight September 11, 2009

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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Eight years ago, Al-Qaeda carried out a series of coordinated attacks on the US which killed 2,993 people, including the 19 hijackers.  Many remember spending the day in front of the television, in shock and disbelief as the day’s events unfolded.  Today, a different kind of disbelief is reflected in US sentiment.  Americans are taking stock of the last eight years with a sense of sadness and uncertainty; its hard to believe it has been eight years since 9/11 and even harder to believe that the US is still involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The national mood reflects several issues.  Americans understand that the threat of terrorist attacks changed the US security environment.  National security conversations today revolve around terrorist organizations, non-state actors and WMDs, and ungoverned spaces.  Weak, fragile or failing states are cause of concern, and supporting the reconstruction or rebuilding of essential governance processes and institutions is viewed as imperative towards protecting US security interests abroad.  Yet, even though Americans understand the new security dynamic, national fatigue is setting in with America’s engagement in seemingly unending “military initiatives” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Viewing both wars through a budgetary lens reveals some facts behind the nation’s disposition.  As shown in the chart below, the war in Iraq has received significantly more funding and resources than Afghanistan, nearly three to one.  Although the outcome in Iraq is still unclear, the insurgency has largely been contained, Iraq is experiencing some level of security, and the drawdown of US troops is moving forward.  The war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, has been comparably underfunded, and has only recently begun to reemerge in the national conversation.  Given the enormous cost in both blood and treasure for the moderate successes in Iraq, it’s hard to “gear up” for the forgotten war in Afghanistan.

DOD Iraq and Afghan

Source: Data provided by CSIS, Resourcing for Defeat by Erin Fitzgerald and Anthony Cordesman

Moreover, in the case of both wars, the DOD requested emergency supplemental funding or “bridge funding” outside the regular defense budget.  Supplemental appropriations bills, by definition, are used to fund unexpected/ unanticipated events which neither Iraq nor Afghanistan were after the first year of engagement.  After FY 2002, the planning and process used to fund both wars should have shifted to the regular budget and appropriations process; it did not. The complexities of supplemental funding can confound even the most informed budget watcher, and the continued use of emergency supplementals has meant that war funding has not received the same scrutiny or oversight as the regular defense budget, long-term cost estimates have been overly optimistic, and year-to-year supplemental funding has obscured the total costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Source: Data provided by CSIS, Resourcing for Defeat by Erin Fitzgerald and Anthony Cordesman

Looking forward, the Obama administration has tough decisions to make regarding wartime funding and resources.  The economic crisis further compounds these hard choices, as Americans are understandably more cautious about the direction of US foreign policy and their associated financial costs.  While concern grows, for the immediate future the unsettled mood in America is not enough to drastically change the funding patterns of the last few years.  In fact, the Senate Defense appropriations committee approved $128.2 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday for FY 2010.



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