John McCain and Barack Obama are hitting pause on the wars over sexism, lipstick and mudslinging to remember the deadly attacks of seven years ago. As they do, here are five indisputable facts worth considering:
1. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered Congress a grim take Tuesday on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Suicide bombings are soaring. The Taliban is surging. The United States has 34,000 U.S. troops there — and more are getting killed in Afghanistan than Iraq. The nation lost 117 soldiers in 2007 — and is on pace to lose many more than that in 2008.
Mullen said he is not convinced we’re winning the war — and other experts argue the 4,500 additional troops on the way will be insufficient to turn the tide.
2. The United States still has 146,000 troops in Iraq (157,000 if you include Kuwait) — and that will change very little before the next president takes office. President Bush announced this week that 8,000 will be withdrawn by February — in large part to help move more forces into Afghanistan.
There is reason for hope in Iraq: The combination of the surge in U.S. troops, improved assistance from Iraqi security forces and the success of U.S. Special Forces has reduced violence and death in Iraq. There is also reason for fear: U.S. officials remain uncertain that the calm will last. As Bush said this week, “the enemy in Iraq is still dangerous.”
There have been 4,155 U.S. casualties in Iraq since the war began.
3. Bush in July secretly approved orders to allow Special Operations forces to strike suspected terrorists in Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government, according to The New York Times. The next president will be forced to determine how we deal with the very unforgiving terrain of Pakistan, where many terrorists plot and live — and which continues to go through a potentially destabilizing political transition.
The next president will also be left with a hostile Iranian government with nuclear ambitions, a very unstable North Korea (whose supreme leader may or may not be seriously ill), an uncertain and dangerous Syria and an increasingly bellicose Russia.
4. The United States has spent at least $858 billion on the two wars, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The U.S. budget deficit is projected to be $407 billion this year and $438 billion next year.
5. The country lost 2,974 people in the attacks that took place on this day seven years ago. No domestic terrorist attacks have transpired in the United States since.
In 2002 and 2004, roughly 25 percent of all Americans considered terrorism and national security the country’s top problem. Today: Four percent do.
Alexander Burns contributed to this story.