Al Qaeda spent roughly half a million dollars to destroy the World Trade Center and cripple the Pentagon. What has been the cost to the United States? In a survey of estimates by The New York Times, the answer is $3.3 trillion, or about $7 million for every dollar Al Qaeda spent planning and executing the attacks. While not all of the costs have been borne by the government — and some are still to come — this total equals one-fifth of the current national debt. All figures are shown in today’s dollars.
To understand this link between today’s financial crisis and Bush’s wider national security decisions, we need to go back to 9/11 itself. From the very outset, the president described the “war on terror” as a vast undertaking of paramount importance. But he simultaneously urged Americans to carry on as if there were no war. “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” he urged just over two weeks after 9/11. “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” Bush certainly wanted citizens to support his war — he just wasn’t going to require them actually to do anything. The support he sought was not active but passive. It entailed not popular engagement but popular deference. Bush simply wanted citizens (and Congress) to go along without asking too many questions.
So his administration’s policies reflected an oddly business-as-usual approach. Senior officials routinely described the war as global in scope and likely to last decades, but the administration made no effort to expand the armed forces. It sought no additional revenue to cover the costs of waging a protracted conflict. It left the nation’s economic priorities unchanged. Instead of sacrifices, it offered tax cuts. So as the American soldier fought, the American consumer binged, encouraged by American banks offering easy credit.
From September 2001 until September 2008, this approach allowed Bush to enjoy nearly unfettered freedom of action…