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The reckoning: Assessing the economic toll of Osama bin Laden

In 2004, with U.S. forces engaged in two simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Osama bin Laden boasted that he was “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.” Bin Laden has said he was applying one of the lessons he learned fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s: a small force couldn’t defeat a superpower in head-on combat, but they could bleed that superpower economically.

Bin Laden is now dead, but the economic damage wrought by his 9/11 attack on America continues to spiral upwards. While there’s no way to calculate the emotional toll of 9/11 on the victims’ families (and on all of us), we can consider the financial toll that attack has taken on the U.S. Need to Know economics correspondent Stacey Tisdale provides a tally.See Need to Know’s full coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden

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  • Anonymous

    Great segment! Something like this was long overdue.

    I remember after 9/11, my Dad saying that as bad as the tragedy was, it was nothing like the devastation of having a war fought on one’s own soil, and that there was no reason it should have “changed everything.” He felt we were overreacting with all of the security spending. Of course, it was hard to express views like that publicly at the time. Funny thing, a few years later, a British visitor to his church around the anniversary date, after listening to a little too much hyperbole, stood up and said 9/11 was essentially a “pinprick” (my term) compared to a real war. As an example, she mentioned The Blitz.

    I do have another point to make. In the story, as in all 9/11 stories, it was stated that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in order get Osama bin Laden (OBL). However, IPS reporter Gareth Porter reminds us (see that in mid-October of 2001, the Taliban offered to turn bin Laden over to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), “a moderate, Saudi-based organisation representing all Islamic countries,” for trial. A previous stipulation that the U.S. provide proof of OBL’s guilt was dropped. Per Porter, “The new Taliban negotiating offer came almost immediately after the U.S. began bombing Taliban targets on Oct. 7, 2001. The fear of the bombing – and what was likely to follow – evidently spurred the Taliban leadership to be more forthcoming on bin Laden. But Bush brusquely rejected any talks on the Taliban proposal, declaring, ‘They must have not heard. There’s no negotiations.’ Bush rejected the Taliban offer despite the fact that U.S. intelligence had picked up reports in the previous months of deep divisions within the Taliban regime over bin Laden. It was because of those reports that Bush had authorised secret meetings by a CIA officer with a high-ranking Taliban official in late September.”

    So, it appears that the Afghan conflict was a war of choice. Did an ambitious, neocon-influenced administration use 9/11 to pursue wider interests? I think so. Recall that Rumsfeld was musing on 9/11 about how the atrocity might be used as an excuse to go after Saddam Hussein. Certainly, such an agenda would be endangered if the man seen as the main culprit were to be quickly apprehended.

  • Bill Barrett

    A wonderful segment — thank you for getting this aired. Though at the late night hour, I suspect the audience was slim.

    I’m pleased that OBL’s gone, finally, and that our guys brought out lots
    of disk drives, etc. Also that they didn’t just shoot everyone in
    sight — in fact they made some phone calls to local authorities to make
    sure that several unarmed women would be safe.

    I think al Quaida’s days are numbered, especially given the popular
    uprisings throughout the middle east. OBL had almost nothing to do with
    those, and the demonstrators appear to want nothing to do with radical
    Islam. That’s good news.

    Yes, there were a lot of American deaths in the jets and twin towers,
    Pentagon, etc. But at the core, it was all done by a half dozen zealots
    who figured out how to exploit a weak link in our transportation
    system. It’s hard to imagine the days before 9/11 when anyone could buy
    a ticket and get on a plane with uninspected luggage and no body
    checks. And the plane’s pilots were right there for anyone to walk up
    and talk to. Sort of like out of a 1960′s movie. But that’s how it was.

    I wrote an essay a long time ago about 9/11 and our reaction to it:


    In it, I argued that the situation did not deserve the level of
    “war” against any nation. Rather, a more aggressive use of
    international police and law, plus stiffening our defenses against such
    easy attacks, appeared far more productive and appropriate.

    You’d think we’d have learned from the experience of the Israelis
    fighting the suicide bombers in their own country, or from the ease with
    which someone drove into the basement garage of one of the twin towers
    back in (when? 1995?) and blew up a car bomb. We didn’t go to war
    against some country (like Canada?) then.

    Also, you’d think that we’d take a rational approach to the situation
    and work through Interpol and other countries to bring the perps to

    Instead, our Texan “bring’em on” cowboy George W. Bush, along with that
    devious scoundrel Dick Cheney, went all out and decided that Iraq had to
    be invaded. The Afghani government, such as it was, was also given
    ultimatims that they couldn’t possibly meet, resulting in another
    invasion. As this segment points out, the overall cost is clearly over $2 trillion.

    What I hadn’t caught previously was the reaction of the Treasury in reducing interest rates, which spawned a huge housing bubble. When the bubble burst, thousands more Americans found themselves in a financial trap.

    Again, thanks for the great investigative reporting, and for getting this aired and on the internet.

  • Guest 5

    Gosh we Americans do know how to conduct and endless debate. Worse still we seem to need the endless debate about right and wrong of whatever we actually did and the consequences!!
    So I will stick to facts.
    1) Every single war, contretemp, call them what you will in the last 50 years in which America led the way involved a significant Muslim or Islamic element. ( including Kosovo /Serbia and Russia’s chechen war.) or separately, Vietnam to rid the world of communism. ( domino theory that never happened.)
    2) WMD, Oil, or removing dictators, human rights needs, WOW DEMOCRACY, are just some of the main arguments for war/contretemp!! But again please note only in majority muslim, Islamic states.
    3) Big surprise we are fighting terrorists initially, Jihad too complex to explain,at the beggining.
    4) A significant part of Debt I am precise with words, as the cost of wars is outside the Budget deficit a trick Bush and Republicans created and DEM’s disgracefully almost continued to perpetuate but did not, but unhappily makes Dems look bad as spendthrifts as the Budget deficit is larger, apparently but not in reality.
    5) In the economic sense Osama bin Laden has won hands down, by the Democtratic world having to create inefficiencies and resulting in Trillions of unnecessary cost globally especially airline security etc etc.
    His death changes none of the above they will remain unless all the democratic nations of the world say to Islam.

    A) We ( the US or all european democratic christian states) are not at war with you practicing your religion, but you must respect the laws of other Non Islamic states in which you may decide to live, and obtain converts peacefully not by force or violence of any kind.
    B) If you or any sectarian part of Islam or Muslims declares Jihad or wishes to Impose sharia law ahead of those laws of a majority christian democratically formulated and elected government or state, then we believe in war to resist… call it Jihad if you wish.
    I leave this with one thought:-
    Nothing but nothing is perfect, and in the end you may be able to convince SOME of the people for ALL of the time and ALL of the people for SOME of the time but not ALL of the people ALL of the time, on whatever subject you like religion or politics or anything!!
    The answer to both sides is tolerate the the intolerable and live together and be happy.
    Allah be praised and God bless us all… we do believe in the same GOD, just differ about the Prophet or saintly messages and meaning or interpretation BOTH sides Sunni, Shiite wahabbi, Baptist Mormon, evangelical… so what!!?? Be happy with your personal beliefs.
    Guest 5

  • guest

    Come on the Housing bubble. Get Real

  • guest

    Come on the Housing bubble. Get Real