To have half of your army be contractors, I donâ€™t know that thereâ€™s a precedent for that…. Maybe the precedent was the British and the Hessians in the American Revolution. Maybe thatâ€™s the last time and needless to say, they lost. But Iâ€™m thinking that thereâ€™s no democratic control and thereâ€™s no intention to have democratic control here. – Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH
There are 160,000 troops stationed in Iraq.
There are 200,000 contractors serving various military functions there.
Some of these contractors perform mundane tasks such as meal preparation and laundry. Halliburton’s infamous “commercials” showcased their involvement in these service tasks.
But many – perhaps too many at this point – are involved in dangerous activities such as ferrying vehicles through insurgent controlled territories. And others, such as the notorious Blackwater and the (evidently) incompetent USIS, have access to high powered weaponry – which they have (allegedly) sold on the black market or used for target practice on Iraqi civilians.
And how are these contractors controlled?
I think itâ€™s extraordinarily dangerous when a nation begins to outsource its monopoly on the use of force and the use of violence in support of its foreign policy or national security objectives. – Former Ambassador Joe Wilson
So what’s the motivation for having so many contractors doing dangerous paramilitary work – besides the obvious desire of the Bush administration to enrich its cronies?
The increasing use of contractors, private forces or as some would say â€˜mercenariesâ€™ makes wars easier to begin and to fight – it just takes money and not the citizenry…. To the extent a population is called upon to go to war, there is resistance, a necessary resistance to prevent wars of self-aggrandizement, foolish wars and in the case of the United States, hegemonic imperialist wars. Private forces are almost a necessity for a United States bent on retaining its declining empire. Think about Rome and its increasing need for mercenaries. – Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights
The advantages for the Bush administration are obvious. Contractors can operate in ways for which the military would be liable to prosecution. While dozens of US soldiers have been court-martialed for exceeding acceptable limits in their use of force, NO contractors have been charged for any such criminal activity – including the aforementioned contractors who used Iraqi civilians for target practice. While over 1,000 contractors have been killed in Iraq, their deaths do not have to be reported as casualties.
In a sense, then, these contractors represent almost perfectly the weltenschauung of the Bush administration – especially of the war’s chief architects, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney:
The most worrying aspect is that these forces are outside parliamentary control. They come from all over and they are answerable to no one except a very narrow group of people (emphasis mine) and they come from countries whose governments may not even know in detail that they have actually been contracted as a private army into a war zone…. – Hans von Sponeck, U.N. diplomat
As Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army reports:
The Iraq war has ushered in a new system. Wealthy nations can recruit the worldâ€™s poor, from countries that have no direct stake in the conflict, and use them as cannon fodder to conquer weaker nations. This allows the conquering power to hold down domestic casualties â€” the single-greatest impediment to waging wars like the one in Iraq…. In many ways, it is the same corporate model of relying on cheap labor in destitute nations to staff their uber-profitable operations. The giant multinationals also argue they are helping the economy by hiring locals, even if itâ€™s at starvation wages.
And as Naomi Klein, author of the upcoming The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism observes, “Donald Rumsfeldâ€™s masterstroke, and his most enduring legacy, was to bring the corporate branding revolution of the 1990s into the heart of the most powerful military in the world….”
There are obvious long term effects that this shifting of the conduct of war from government run – and, therefore, answerable to citizens – armies to private armies of mercenaries disguised as contractors who answer only to a power elite who write their checks:
It raises very important issues about state and about the very power of state. The one thing the people think of as being in the purview of the government â€” wholly run and owned by â€” is the use of military power…. Suddenly youâ€™ve got a for-profit corporation going around the world that is more powerful than states, can effect regime [change] possibly where they may want to go, that seems to have all the support that it needs from this administration that is also pretty adventurous around the world and operating under the cover of darkness. It raises questions about democracies, about states, about who influences policy around the globe, about relationships among some countries. Maybe itâ€™s their goal to render state coalitions like NATO irrelevant in the future, that theyâ€™ll be the ones and open to the highest bidder. Who really does determine war and peace around the world? – Rep. Pat Scharansky, D-IL….
Who indeed? I think we can all make an educated, if deeply troubling, guess….