As we’ve just finished a weekend commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, ponder this question: Did Osama bin Laden win?

He was killed by U.S. Special Forces a decade ago, his remains dumped into the Indian Ocean. But when you consider what his goals were when he attacked New York and Washington, he has achieved much of what he wanted.

When al-Qaida attacked, the U.S. was the only superpower on the world stage, coming a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, there is a growing school of thought that we have fallen behind China.

America spent $6.4 trillion on what then-President George W. Bush described as the “War on Terror,” according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project. This includes his “Axis of Evil” State of the Union address in 2002, when Bush expanded the U.S. assault on al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

The Iraq War costs are pegged around $2 trillion (coming to about $8,000 per U.S. taxpayer). That includes interest on borrowed funds, increased war-related spending, higher pay to retain soldiers, medical and disability care on post-9/11 and war veterans, and more, said Stephanie Savell of the Costs of War Project told Business Insider.

The Costs of War Project estimates the U.S. spent $2.2 trillion in Afghanistan, including $837 billion on fighting and $145 billion on Afghan reconstruction, the development of its national security forces that quit after 11 days this summer, as well as counternarcotic efforts.

There were 2,352 U.S. military members killed in Afghanistan and 20,000 wounded. In the Iraq War, 4,431 U.S. troops were killed and 31,944 were wounded. These human costs are incalculable.

According to a 2018 Center of Public Integrity study, the U.S. has spent $2.8 trillion on counterterrorism and hardened security at airports, transportation centers, utilities, schools, etc. The authors noted that since 9/11, only 100 people have been killed by Muslim extremists or jihadists inside the United States, while more than 20,000 fentanyl-related (opioid) deaths occurred in 2016 alone.

“Some analysts conclude that spending $2.8 trillion to counter a terrorism threat that has resulted in comparatively few fatalities is a waste of increasingly scarce government resources ...,” the report said. “Others may contend that terrorism’s impact is more psychological than physical, or that the low fatality count from terrorism and the lack of another 9/11-scale attack suggest the money has been well spent.”

Osama bin Laden not only sought to force the United States and Western democracies into a multitrillion-dollar spending spree, he sought to divide us.

America emerged from Sept. 11 in a united mode that lasted less than five years. The war in Iraq included then-Vice President Dick Cheney moving for the CIA to create “dark places” to waterboard Sept. 11 terrorists. There were the scandals of the Abu Graib prison that undermined then-President Bush’s declared collision of good and evil.

In the week after President Biden’s surreal airlifting of 120,000 Americans and Afghans out of Kabul airport in our final drawdown, we’ve watched the Taliban announce an interim government filled with old guard terrorists.

And down in Gitmo, the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, appeared in a trial that has included nine years of pretrial hearings. KSM walked into the Guantanamo courtroom wearing a turban and an orange-tinged beard. He waved to reporters.

The America of today would have Osama bin Laden smiling. We are so culturally divided we cannot even join forces to take a vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Our collective trust in government is in the 20th percentile. We are more than $22 trillion in debt, and projections indicate Social Security will be bankrupt by the end of this decade.

In the Sept. 13, 2001, Howey Politics edition, Dave Kitchell of the Logansport Pharos-Tribune observed, “If Tuesday served to do anything for the country, it reminded us all that ... we have not paid off the mortgage on our freedom. We have only refinanced it. ... (T)he test of American citizenship character is one we’re all about to take, and it’s not on a printed form. We have to pass a national character test to prevent our golden door from being beaten down like this again.”

Brian A. Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

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