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The Bin Laden Decade

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We all remember where we were at roughly 8.30 AM when the first of two attacks, which changed the world, occurred. A minute's silence is in order for the nearly 3,000 who died.

And another minute's silence is in order for the massacre of the American economy that day.
Osama bin Laden's death in May has brought some closure and the tenth anniversary of 9/11 seems to be mostly about placing the tragic events into historical context even though it's too early to do so.

But the usual suspects are taking the usual sides. There are those who blame all of America's financial woes on Bush's preoccupation with his Iraq and Afghan occupations and bin Laden.

"To keep the economy going during the turbulence of these years, the US and its European counterparts unleashed what was to become perhaps the biggest credit bubble of all time," wrote Jeremy Warner in the Telegraph.

But any connection is tangential if, in fact, real at all.

At the other extreme is the triumphalism of Bush apologists like Charles Krauthammer who wrote yesterday that the busy decade of invasions and occupations and torture and security guards was cheap, effective and heroic.

"It kept us safe," he wrote "the warrant-less wiretaps, the Patriot Act, extraordinary rendition, preventive detention and, yes, Guantanamo."

Then added, the total cost of "the two wars" was $1.3 trillion or "less than 1/11th of the national debt".

Both writers couldn't be more off-base.

Surely Krauthammer knows that the independent Congressional Budget Office in 2007 estimated the Afghan and Iraqi invasions and occupations would end up costing taxpayers $2.4 trillion by 2017 if interest payments on borrowings to pay for combat were included. Or that Brown University, in 2010, calculated that the added price of operations in Pakistan, of the benefits due to veterans and of the interest due on debt put the total cost closer to $4 trillion.

Or that, such staggering amounts do not include the total for Homeland Security spending, which is mostly allocated outside the Defense budget. Since September 11, 2001, the tab has risen to $635.9 billion.

But the allocation is worth it, say the Bush supporters, because the expected second attack didn't happen. But who expected a second attack? It looks like that was their best shot and its was a bull's eye. The only other airborne attempts involved a shoe that didn't work and some guy with exploding underwear over Detroit. And the point of those is also that both wackos were able to board planes heading to the US.

To be fair, the opposite extreme is also questionable. Jeremy Warner's theory that the war caused the financial collapse is tenuous. He said the credit bubble created by the US and Europe was to "keep the economy going during the turbulence of these years."

The Europeans were on the military sidelines this decade. They overspent because the European Central Bank did a lousy job of managing, never even requiring independent audits of the Greek financials or anyone else's.

As for the US, its President made earning a Harvard MBA a dubious achievement when he over-reacted after 9/11 and launched two invasions without doing due diligence, then stayed there for years, and billions, there he had no strategic plan or exit. He then changed course and spilled more "treasure and blood" to try and turn them into democracies in defiance of both logic and history. Poor old George had never read their prospectuses.

These military misadventures did not cause the economic mess either. Nor did Social Security. That was due to spending more than taxes brought in plus allowing the monkeys to guard the bananas on Wall Street. Bush buddies, like Henry Paulson, let the suits turn American banks into casinos and themselves into swindlers.

This has not been a pretty decade and thank heavens it's mostly over, except for the fiscal clean up.

The takeaway from all this, however, is quite chilling and hard to admit. The only leader in the past ten years with clear objectives and prescient vision was the late Osama bin Laden. He said before the attack that the real price of oil was $100 to $150 a barrel. Then, in 2002, he forecasted that his efforts would duplicate what he did to the Soviet Union and drive the United States to "economic bankruptcy."

Tragically, the guy was right. Twice.