Mercenaries are in the Military
to Stay: Get Used to It!
by Lorelei Kelly
www.alternet.org, February 20,
Remember that old movie "Escape from
New York", the one where the city has become a large prison
populated by violent and depraved criminals? A story that fell
between the cracks of the State of the Union last month -- two
downed Blackwater helicopters, five Americans dead -- made me
remember the images from that film. No escape, not by land, not
by air, not by sea.
Some news reports speculate that four
of the five were shot on the ground. Ugh and sigh. I know it is
hard for some people to feel outrage or grief over the death of
private military contractors -- an attitude that I often find
is supported by perverse logic and misplaced anger about our own
government's dysfunction. The bottom line is that the privatization
of US National Security is a trend that has been ongoing for years.
It was a conversation that Congress forgot to have during the
heady government-hatin' rally that passed for a legislature for
the past decade. So here we are. The Washington Post recently
reported that there are some 100,000 contractors in Iraq alone,
including 25,000 private security contractors.
This exceeds the number of all coalition
forces combined, and is only 40,000 less than the number of U.S.
troops in Iraq. It is a virtual army of largely unregulated individuals
working on behalf of U.S. national interests. From strategic weapons
systems as the B-2 stealth bomber and Global Hawk to running ROTC
programs, the military has been colonized by corporations. This
is all legitimate business created by our own government -- though
the billions of dollars disappeared by contractors in Iraq make
Abramoff look like Little Bo Peep.
When I was a Hill staffer some years ago,
I remember going on a site visit to one of our national labs.
Our tour guide and host gave me a card with both the US Government
and Lockheed Martin logos on it. I was puzzled, but it didn't
strike me until later just how pervasive this sort of privatization
is. Later, after a missile defense trip larded with industry dollars,
I became a purist. I don't want profit making entities to have
a large decision making influence on any part of our government.
Handing over public tasks to the free
market without a thorough discussion about what are essential
government responsibilities is the hallmark of the era that just
ended. The new Congress has set out an ambitious agenda of contract
oversight. But a much larger conversation needs to happen at the
same time. Now is the chance for Democrats and rebellious Republicans
to put forward a governing philosophy that will provide a backdrop
for all policy decision making: One that values a public sector
that is the keeper of our collective memory. Values measured by
the common good, not by NASDAQ.
Private military companies -- like many
other "efficiencies" introduced into government -- are
here to stay. They arose in the 1990's to meet a demand for manpower
in MMOTW (Military MIssions Other Than War) a now defunct acronym
that referred to peacekeeping. Whenever this type of military
capacity need came up during the last decade, entire rooms full
of Congressmen would come down with the Cold War vapors. The subject
was soon redirected back to gold plated commie-killin pet projects
and MMOTW were left to hang in the wind. I know a handful of contractors.
They are idealists about their work. They think that if the world
isn't going to intervene in places like the Sudan -- why not outsource
it? Its hard to disagree with them on this point. But the fundamental
question is still why the heck haven't we adapted our military
to handle these types of missions? Iraq is a lesson in our failure
to do so.
The recent oversight hearings on Iraq
contracting are a welcome sign of change. Yet there's no guarantee
that they will lead to a thorough overhaul of our philosophy of
government. What we need is a bare-knuckled battle of ideas with
neo-conservatives. And as far as our Cold War defense hangover
goes, there's still not enough discussion. Even now, when all
the commies are watching American Idol.
Meanwhile, an entire infrastructure has
developed to support private security services. Take a look at
these bios . These are not mercenaries. In my ideal world, they
would be public servants, but our government has pared down its
personnel by the thousands over the past two decades. Now the
institutional memory for many of today's most important issues...conflict
resolution, peace ops, post conflict stabilization -- reside in
the private sector. It doesn't have to stay this way, however.
The US Congress took a step toward acknowledging
this problem: last October's defense bill placed contractors under
the Uniform Code of Military Justice ... Great Britain has been
looking at options for Regulating Private Military Services in
the United Kingdom, the rationale being that since the government
already licenses the export of military goods, it makes sense
to license the export of military activities in a similar way.
And here in this country, the PMCs themselves
are clamoring for more regulation. A friend of mine who used to
work for General Dynamics as a private military contractor agreed.
In his own words, he called for a national debate -- led by the
new Congress -- on the regulation of his own industry. Moreover,
he said, only Congress can re-establish the once clear line between
where public authority ends and private initiative begins.
Now all we need is civilian leadership
to step up to the plate and make some decisions.
Lorelei Kelly is the director of the Real
Security Initiative at the White House Project.