Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Over on Alternet Lorelei Kelly, former Hill staffer, has a piece entitled “Mercenaries are in the military to stay: Get Used To It!” (http://www.alternet.org/story/48241/). Lord, X-wave feminist style hasn’t helped matters at all, even when they’re serious.

The article has a serious chunk to offer. The military – apparently – has been presiding over its own privatization for “years”. This IS interesting. We had sorta gotten used to the idea that they now had civilan cooks and bottlewashers over there in Bosnia, and even that ‘some’ private-security folks were tromping around Baghdad, presumably privately engaged by this or that Iraqi bigwig to man his motorcades and take the kids to school. But now it appears that there are “100,000 contractors … including 25,000 private security contractors”. That’s a lot of motorcades and the school parking lots must look like marshaling yards for an entire Panzer division. And if it’s like that in Baghdad, where our glorious forces are establishing the world’s strongest embassy … ach. As the BBC series “The World At War” pithily put it: “In 1943 in Berlin it was better listening to music than to news.” Cue the Beethoven; hold Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”.

She calls it “a virtual army of largely unregulated individuals working on behalf of U.S. national interests”. I’m not about to grant that. As employees, they are wherever they are in behalf of the interests of whatever entity hired them and pays them. If the interests of the US government happen to coincide, fine and dandy; if not … what then? And if we are talking about the companies providing bad water and bad food to the troops, well then we’re looking at the type of business that was last done on this scale in the Civil War when the early corporations provided rotten tinned meat to the boys in blue at Gettysburg and there was so much paper in the uniforms that they literally dissolved off a soldier’s body in the first rain. Lack of Humvee armor and ineffective body-armor wouldn’t be any surprise to Grant’s and Sherman’s boys. But many of them died, and the corporations that sold the junk to the Union Army went on to long, cash-fat, respectable lives, as did the desk-riding colonels and generals who approved the contracts.

“They are all legitimate businesses” she points out. Welllll … slavery was legitimate for quite a while, of course; it only takes a law to make something ‘legitimate’ and now they’ve got one that has legitimized torture and even one for making legitimate what was feloniously illegitimate when it was committed. The wonders of modern legislation! More recently we have seen more than enough to induce us to consider any private contractor with its jaws clamped tightly into the cash-fat corpus of the Pentagon as ‘suspicious’.

“The military”, she asserts, “has been colonized by corporations.” Willy Tango Foxtrot? The Pentagon isn’t like some remote, fortified Pacific island where the corporations could land like Marines and take the place over after some serious gunplay. If the corporations are in the fort, somebody had to open the gate – from the inside. And if it’s been going on for so long and it’s an established fact, then a lot of generals and admirals must have known about it. So why no alarm? Were they bought off by the corporations? Were they willing to have all these corporations and their mercenaries come in?
Those are unhappy roads, either of them. Save money on troops that you can then quietly divert to buy weapons-systems that can outclass the latest Soviet stuff? Give out contracts so that you can get hired as a consultant after you retire with a DSM? Hold your tongue so you don’t endanger your next promotion or your next assignment? To read Ms. Kelly you get the idea the Pentagon was invaded and taken over. You don’t just go over an “colonize” the Pentagon. Except in the movies. And there is a difference. Still. Isn’t there?

And yet she wants us to just accept this ‘colonization’ as a fact, regardless of how it happened (and she has nothing to say about how it happened). Even if “the billions of dollars disappeared by contractors in Iraq make Abramoff look like Little Bo Peep”. Now that has to be a lot of money; Washington City for the period of the Twelve Years has resembled nothing so much as Rome at its decadent worst. To do worse than the best of the K-Street scummies is to do very bad indeed. And yet we are to accept as a given that these players are somehow now at the table and that’s that? In the matter of national defense, in the matter of turning civilian nationals loose with powerful weapons in a foreign country and in a war zone … we are supposed to just ‘Get used to it’ …? Or to ‘Get over it’ … ? Like this was just some campus dust-up over a woman president or gays on the football squad? And if we keep asking questions, are we simply to be dismissed because we “just don’t get it” … ?

The turkeys of symbolic politics played to the pretensions of a peanut gallery are coming home to roost with a vengeance. The same gummy pudding that passed for ‘serious’ in the dorm cafeteria is supposed to determine how we conduct the matter of lethal violence waged against other peoples on the responsibility of the American government and the American People.

And the bloody tip of this problem is precisely that: lethal force and the responsibility for authorizing it. We can’t even control our uniformed troops as well as we’d like to think (Abu Graib, some of these incidents out in the field) and we are going to let a bunch of mercenaries loose with even bigger and better guns? And they will certainly be taken by the locals as acting with the authority of the United States. With Our authority as The People. Is this what we want? Can a nation even do that? Should it? Is it at all wise?

We apparently have not only mercenary cooks and bottlewashers and vehicle-gassers and barracks-cleaners (and guys to work porta-potty trucks … imagine if one of those takes a direct hit). We also have mercenary combat personnel (and not just guys sitting in limos next to the Client). Is this true? And the Pentagoons are good with this?

So Ms. Kelly reports that a lot of these mercenaries are well-trained (ex-military, many of them, no doubt) and well-intentioned and patriotic. But … they got out. But now they’re back. Pay’s better – no doubt. Still, she’s glad that they’ve been brought under the authority of military justice now (apparently neither she nor they are very familiar with the sausage machine within whose kill zone they have now been chained).

And she urges that this whole thing should really be discussed. Well, no – actually she wants Congress to exercise better oversight. But ‘oversight’ assumes that the mercenaries are there and that their being there is a done deal, may be even a good thing. Maybe.

So the mercenaries are now ‘facts on the ground’ and we just have to ‘deal with it’. Well, we do have to deal with this thing. Whether we have to accept it is another question. We most certainly have to think the thing through from the get-go and take nothing for granted. Maybe we will decide that private security companies are indeed n-o-t “here to stay”. We can do that. It would be ‘legitimate’. We are, after all, The People, and that still counts for something.

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Blogger Davidco said...

US casualties in Iraq would be 25% higher if the number of mercenaries killed (to date, 800) or wounded (3,367) were added to the figures commonly reported. To get such data on US civilian casualties currently requires a formal request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.

As you point out, not all these civilians are gun-toting thugs who supervise torture without themselves being supervised.

The mercenaries also perform unskilled labor typically required of Army privates (eg. truck driving, laundry, preparing meals, repairing infrastructure etc.) but are paid entry level wages of $100,000 per year (much of it tax-free = 6X the pay rate for a PFC undertaking the same tasks in a hotly contested war zone).

This is a high price to pay in order to conceal true American losses but it is enough to blunt political costs and homefront sympathy for the families of those killed when they seek to recover damages from cost-cutting corporations like Halliburton, Blackwater and Wackenut that fail to provide adequate supervision, communication, armor & supplies and are negligent in tactical application of standard best practices in the area of force protection.

When disaster strikes as a result of this negligence, the propaganda organs slip into high gear. The city of Fallujah was levelled and its civilian populatiion napalmed to 'avenge' the grisly deaths of 4 mercenaries in 2004 who never should have died in the first place. The ironies accumulate as their recklessly negligent corporate employer later tries to defend itself in US civil court claiming the unprotected contractors died due to their own negligence.

For higher fees, mercenaries (almost half the number of Americans in Iraq) contract to perform activities typically associated with war fighting (eg. providing security for convoys, guarding prisoners, other types of sentry duty), intelligence analysis, translating documents etc.

Last week, five mercenaries died when a heat seeking missle struck the helicopter they were in which was providing private air support for a US Embassy convoy which came under attack. So far 11 private security personnel have been killed in private helicopters engaged in firefights.

It is becoming clear that military pay and benefits are now insufficient to attract recuits in this high employment,low birth rate economy where college is available to most of the middle class. Even with expansion of 'moral waivers' for delinquents and waivers of education criteria for denizens of the underclass, the armed forces are, by all accounts, collapsing.

I foresee more resort to citizenship benefits for 'illegal' aliens who wish to become the citizen anchors for naturalization of the rest of their family members - even at the cost of their lives.

With our increasing resort to use of client state militaries and paramilitaries (Israel, Colombia, Central America, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kurds, Shiites etc.) How far away are we from the Gothic legions of the late Roman Empire, the British exploitation of colonial Irishmen, Highlanders & Gurkhas in their territorial wars and the French & Spanish Foreign Legions?

Imperial collapse is never far behind resort to mercenaries - especially at the astounding salary rates we are paying to avoid (as with tax breaks for the rich) confronting the results of our own foreign policies.

8:31 AM  

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