Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The whores of war

The Republican Party has worked for some time to privatize as many functions of government as possible. The one area I would have expected to be immune from this tampering was the military. Going back to Bush I, Cheney and Rumsfeld have been working to outsource tasks that have traditionally belonged to the military to private firms. In Iraq and Afghanistan, this trend has become frightening. Euphemistically called, "contractors," these folk are not carrying hammers and rulers but instead M4's and automatic weapons. They are guarding diplomats, facilities, and escorting convoys of supplies through war zones. There have even been instances where these mercenaries have commanded US military forces. To make it worse, at least in Iraq, they are not subject to military rules of engagement nor are they subject to civilian law... Yes, you read that correctly, they are essentially above any law while being in incredibly stressful situations and highly armed. Currently there are over 22,000 of them operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were even deployed under similar rules in New Orleans after Katrina.

Many of these mercenaries are former US special forces people but others, employed by the US government, were former members of Pinochet's henchmen, apartheid soldiers in South Africa, and the worst of the worst from other war torn places.

This industry has quickly grown to being worth billions of dollars.

Here are some of the pieces that really worry me...

They make war easier. As a nation we think twice about committing our sons and daughters in uniform to war. Mercenaries don't elicit the same concern. And the costs of war are not quite so clear. All of this makes it easier to go to war without the input and approval of the population or even our elected representatives.

We are encouraging private companies to build large, highly trained armies that are not accountable to anyone except the folk running those companies and their bottom lines. We are making our national security dependent upon companies over whom we have no control and who have no accountability to the government or the people of the United States.

What happens if their commercial interests or political ideologies differ from the nation as a whole? Or what if a bunch of crazy billionaires say, "Here is more money than you've ever imagined, let's overthrow the government and turn it into the utopia we envision." At the same time, because these mercenaries are paid so well, they are siphoning off many qualified people from our military and from the militaries of our allies.

As an industry, they benefit from conflict and suffer if there is none so they have significant impetus to be sure that conflict continues and to insure that the primary response to a political conflict is violence. Because it is such a huge industry, they have the ears of many in Washington, on Wall Street, and in other places f influence around the world.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky in the House (H.R. 4650) and Bernie Sanders in the Senate (S. 3023), have introduced bills that would prohibit hiring private mercenaries to perform tasks traditionally done by the military. This is essential to our national security. This is essential to our future. Contact your congress people and encourage them to support these bills.


Randy Creath said...

As always, Roy, you've got something worthwhile to write! Thanks!

Michael Mahoney said...

Your info is a little outdated. Since 2007, PMCs have been under the jurisdiction of the UCMJ, just like any sworn soldier of the US military.

That came, BTW, in an amendment to a defense spending bill, an amendment which was written by a Republican senator, Lindsey Graham. Of course, the liberal media actually does not like this law, because it also applies to embedded journalists.

Absolutely, there have been issues with these guys. But there are over 100,000 of them currently in Iraq, and there have been six or seven incidents... hardly endemic of a major issue. And PMCs have been around a long time, in Africa, Kosovo, the Gulf War. And the US is not the only country that uses them.

roy said...

hmmm... Michael, why is the UCMJ an issue for embedded journalists?

As for being out of date, the question is whether or not they are actually being held to any standards. Have any "contractors" been tried for braking the UCMJ? 6 or 7 incidents? You mean 6 or 7 incidents that have been investigated... that is a very different statement.

Mercenaries go way back... they were a significant issue in the fall of Rome. And yes, they have been used by the US since the Revolutionary War and certainly in Africa, Kosovo, The Gulf War... and the US is certainly not the only country that uses them... but they are still immoral. They still are a threat to our national security. The fact that they literally are armies for hire makes their use by our government in areas that are significant to our national security just stupid.

roy said...

Michael, here is the real question, and I'm serious... do you think using and encouraging the formation of mercenary armies is a good thing? And if so, why?

Michael Mahoney said...

In a perfect world, Roy, no. I would much prefer that these jobs are done by sworn military personnel, or at the very least, with military officers in charge of them.

But the world is hardly perfect. I truism of war is that you need bodies on the ground. Given a fixed amount of human resources you are left with several unpleasant choices. (And don't give me "withdrawal" - even Obama knows that's not an option at this point)

1. Compromise your mission by diverting front-line personnel to support roles. This also has the effect of compromising the safety of everyone involved.

2. Contract some of the support roles to the PMCs.

The vast majority of the PMCs in Iraq are doing things like running mess halls and supply depots and medical facilities. Yes, there are some doing bodyguard work and escorting convoys, and yes, there are some running prison camps. IMO, I would rather that military personnel fill those roles, but not at the expense of taking them from where they are needed more.

I can't support these bills, because they offer no options. I cannot support something that is quick to point out the problem, but fails to attempt a solution.

And as for the embedded journalists, the issue with them seems to be that the law requires that they be answerable to the unit commanders. Prior to 2007, if a journalist failed to comply with a military restriction, the worst that could happen was they get sent home. Now, they can be charged with a crime under the UCMJ. The point is largely moot, as there are actually very few embedded reporters left in Iraq.

Dave Miller said...

Michael, the solution is for the military to have sufficient personnel to handle these jobs.

The fact that we have chosen not to have these folks as sworn soldiers is allowing our leaders a free pass when it comes to war.

We all know that there is no way we could have gone to war in Iraq without the PMC's.

It was just simple numbers. So congress would have had to draft, or call up the rest of the needed folks for the war.

This simple fact alone would have prohibited our leaders from going to war without the political backing of the citizenry.

The solution is simple. If a war is worth fighting, and we need more soldiers than we have sworn, then it is worth the entire country sacrificing, and we start that with a draft.

If our leaders cannot muster the leadership to get it through, maybe America doesn't really believe in that particular war.

At the very least, it will make us really think about where we want to invest the lives of our soldiers.