The US has blown over $21 trillion on the War on Terror instead of ideas like forgiving student debt or improved healthcare. Now t's time to invest in making American lives better.

The US has spent $21 trillion since the September 11 attacks on militarism and war.
We could decarbonize our electric grid and deeply reduce child poverty for less than half the cost.

It's time for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan and reinvest in these missed opportunities over 20 years.

Lindsay Koshgarian is the Director of the National Priorities Project at Institute for Policy Studies. She is the author of the report State of Insecurity: Militarization's Cost Since 9/11.

This column is an opinion piece. These thoughts are solely the author's.

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As the US celebrated the end to the war in Afghanistan in 2001, President Biden asked a crucial question: "What opportunities have we lost?"

He noted that the US has spent $300 million per day in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. This is a staggering figure, but it is only a fraction of the vast militarization that the US has conducted around the globe since 9/11.

According to research that my coauthors and me published at the Institute for Policy Studies, twenty years after 9/11, the cost of our militarized domestic and foreign policies has been $21 trillion in the past two decades.

These costs include the wars, our large global military presence, and ballooning Pentagon budgets. They include punitive immigration, border enforcement, and the reorientation and expansion of powers for the FBI, DEA and other law enforcement agencies in counterterrorism.

These spending habits have caused massive damage to their own reputation.

The US has deported 5 million people from this country since 9/11 due to its militarized spending. Since then, 900,000.0 deaths have been caused by the global war against terror. It has placed $1.8 billion worth military equipment in cities, targeted Black and Latinx individuals to be held for nonviolent crimes, and funded FBI programs that target people based only on their race, religion, or ethnicity. This is just a start.

As the president suggested, it's also money that hasn't been used on other things.

The US is still suffering from a pandemic that has claimed more than 600,000. Millions of Americans are now homeless, even though most eviction moratoriums have ended. An ongoing opioid epidemic is claiming nearly 50,000 lives each year. Every part of the country has seen thousands of people lose their homes and lives due to floods or fires that were once unimaginable. This is all because of climate change.

While each of these crises are emergencies, Congress still believes that the real solutions to them are too costly. What if we spent even a fraction of the $21 trillion that we have sunk into militarism instead on these things?

War is more expensive than crisis solutions

Many of the ambitious plans that we hear are too expensive would only cost a fraction the $21 trillion spent on militarism. To build an entirely renewable energy grid and decarbonize electricity generation in the country, it would take less than 25% of $4.5 trillion.

To forgive student debt, it would only cost $1.7 trillion.

We could create 5,000,000 jobs for $2.3 trillion and $15 per hour with 10 year benefits.

We could spend $449 billion, or 2%, of our militarized spending to keep money in the pockets families with children by expanding Child Tax Credit for another 10 years. This will help people stay in their homes, give kids a fair start in life and greatly reduce child poverty.

It would cost only $25 billion to vaccinate low income countries against COVID. This will save lives and stop the spread of coronavirus variants.

Even if all those things were done, it's still less than half of what we spent on militarism over the past 20 years.

Retire from militarization

These expenses are not necessary to be erased. For example, we must take care of the veterans who were harmed by our policies. We can reduce these and other costs by reducing our dependence on militarization and warfare, which has been a huge failure, as evidenced by the sad end to our occupation in Afghanistan.

We have spent $21 trillion in 20 years on militarism. This proves that when a country prioritizes something it has both the money as well as the political will to make it a reality.

Congress has not yet changed its priorities. The House Armed Services Committee voted on September 1 to add $25 billion to its budget. This is the same amount that it would cost to vacate the rest of the world against COVID-19, to the Pentagon's already large weapons budget. They are out of tune with Americans. In a poll last summer, the majority said they would prefer to cut 10% the Pentagon budget to fund other priorities.

The US reduced Pentagon spending to pay for the "peace dividend" at the end of Cold War. The US has now pulled out all its troops from Afghanistan. If Congress and President Biden dare to claim it, the end of this war could give us a peace dividend that we can reinvest at home. We can't afford to miss 20 years of opportunities for our infrastructure, jobs and planet.