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August 07, 2009

Comments

On the last sentence, "if we can't manage to fight multiple decades long wars without them, let's ditch the multiple decades long wars" -- my understanding is these guys are, in many ways, your typical military contractor, in that they don't actually save any money (only there b/c of corruption, ideology, etc.).

On the article as a whole -- Jesus Fucking Christ. Outside that, words fail me.

my understanding is these guys are, in many ways, your typical military contractor, in that they don't actually save any money (only there b/c of corruption, ideology, etc.

Right, but the cost of increasing the size of the armed forces on a permanent basis to handle the spike in need in times of war would be more expensive in the long run. Or at least, that's the theory.

Right, but the cost of increasing the size of the armed forces on a permanent basis to handle the spike in need in times of war would be more expensive in the long run.

I'm not sure that makes much sense, Eric.

How is it cheaper for a contractor to maintain a standing army of a particular size than for the government to do the same? Or how is it any easier for a contractor to assemble a less-than-permanent army? I'm not sure I see where privatization benefits economy in this situation.

How is it cheaper for a contractor to maintain a standing army of a particular size than for the government to do the same?

Training and lifetime benefits. Two very costly areas that the private firm does not need to provide. And what you have are several private firms that maintain the market-determined work force, and then recruits more when there is a spike in demand.

For the government to be able to handle the spike, we'd have to maintain an army with a couple hundred thousand more troops - at least - which, given the turnover, would require training millions, adding millions to the rolls of veterans, etc.

Jeez my grammar really sucks today. Apologies for the unreadability of some of these comments.

Eric: "Training and lifetime benefits."

I think the training part was the point I was trying to get at. The trade-off is that a private force is less trained, less professional and less accountable. So you're still getting what you pay for.

As for the lifetime benefits, isn't that what the Reserves are for? And if it's a multiple-decade engagement, is that still considered a "spike?"

The fact that the Prince/DeVos family are some of the biggest money behind rightwingnuttery, and that they have their own army, is a little bit scarey

I think you're misplaced here Eric for criticizing Mr. Prince for shaking the invisible hand of the market. Clearly, there was a market demand for "eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe" via the "destruction of Iraqi life," and Mr. Prince and Blackwater merely arose to fullfill such a demand, can you blame them? I mean, what would you have us do? Ban murder and the facilitation of murder in some misguided attempt to stamp out every available opportunity to murder Iraqis?

We all know prohibition doesn't work. By criminalizing murder and its facilitation, you'll just cause it to go underground, where it will be taken over by private armies and who knows what will happen then?!!? Much better to have the invisible hand of the market, acting through no-bid contracts from the CIA, state and defense department, to regulate these private armies instead of the heavy hand of the gov't. It is through the efficiency and ruthless competition of the market that we will find the most efficient way to murder our way to victory in Iraq.

I think the training part was the point I was trying to get at. The trade-off is that a private force is less trained, less professional and less accountable. So you're still getting what you pay for

Not necessarily. Most mercs are ex-military, meaning they've already got the training. That saves the private shops a large amount of money.

As for the lifetime benefits, isn't that what the Reserves are for?

The US military has to pay lifetime benefits to vets. Private contractors don't. This is a massive expense that makes it easier to run a private merc shop.

And if it's a multiple-decade engagement, is that still considered a "spike?"

Well, they weren't supposed to be. And if you wanted to increase the size of the standing army to the levels needed, that will take close to a decade regardless.

So either we maintain a much larger standing army, adding massively to the rolls of vets that get lifetime benefits, or we pull in the mercs in a pinch.

Or, best of all, we avoid the pinches.

...cost of increasing the size of the armed forces on a permanent basis to handle the spike in need in times of war would be more expensive in the long run.

Which is why we have the National Guard and the Individual Ready Reserve to call on. Of course, if you abuse those institutions by shipping them off to mismanaged wars based on fundamentalist theology and old school imperialism you run into trouble. The take home lesson is: Don't elect Republicans if you want a strong national defense.

I don't disagree. I'm just saying that even with the Guard and Reserve, we had massive shortfalls in personnel needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If we wanted to have enough to handle those contingencies, we'd have to massively increase the size of our standing army. Which would be, in the long run, more expensive than hiring some mercs as needed. Not that I like hiring mercs. I'd rather just avoid the unnecessary wars.

If Sarah Palin is to be believed, then I reckon Prince would be a perfect fit as Obama's Health Care Czar.

Maybe if we did a better job of minding our own business, and drafted any citizen of military age who advocates war, we'd be able to get by.

"The trade-off is that a private force is less trained, less professional and less accountable."

That first part is largely untrue, in that of the kind of "military contractors" under discussion, the ones whose job it is to perform armed functions (largely guarding, etc.), are almost universally ex-professional soldiers. One of the main complaints about this whole system has been that the companies pay about ten times what the U.S. military does. so there was tremendous incentive for highly trained military personnel to quit so they could take jobs with Blackwater, et al.

The points about losing fire discipline, chain-of-command discipline, ROE (rules of engagment discipline), and so on, I think remain completely valid, as does the "less accountable" part. But the ex-U.S. forces doing private military work pretty well started out well-trained. It's what they were then led to take as acceptable practices that led into horrific problems, which is a somewhat different issue.

Many were actually some of the most very highly trained: former SEALS, Delta Force, etc. But, of course, not all, since there's a much more limited supply of those than of ex-military in general. And what the actual stats on backgrounds of DynCorp, Xe, etc., personnel are, I couldn't say; how many yoyos were also included in armed jobs, I don't know.

(There's also the case of use of ex-foreign-forces, who varied in training, but mostly weren't, if I understand it correctly, generally involved in controversial incidents, although obviously far more is yet to come out on all this.)

To quote a bit of The Nation's piece, I'd just like to say that I find the following completely plausible:

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince's executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to "lay Hajiis out on cardboard." Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince's employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as "ragheads" or "hajiis."
Among the additional allegations made by Doe #1 is that "Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq." He states that he personally witnessed weapons being "pulled out" from dog food bags. Doe #2 alleges that "Prince and his employees arranged for the weapons to be polywrapped and smuggled into Iraq on Mr. Prince's private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines," adding that Prince "generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade."

Doe #2 states: "Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution." Blackwater "was not abiding by the terms of the contract with the State Department and was deceiving the State Department," according to Doe #1.

This is not the first time an allegation has surfaced that Blackwater used dog food bags to smuggle weapons into Iraq. ABC News's Brian Ross reported in November 2008 that a "federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating allegations the controversial private security firm Blackwater illegally shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in large sacks of dog food." Another former Blackwater employee has also confirmed this information to The Nation.

But one of the reasons I find all of this entirely plausible is that you'll find all these practices committed by some of the bottom dregs of the U.S. Army, as well. With all due to respect to the majority of better soldiers and officers, whom I don't think should be characterized this way, choosing unissued or illegal weapons, and engaging in racist epithets of the enemy are hardly uncommon events in any army.

This is not to say that Blackwater/Xe, or anyone, should be let off the hook; I'm simply saying why I find these particular charges unremarkably plausible.

(The "illegal arms trade" is somewhat more unusual in the actual military, but that's because they already have access to plenty of weapons legally.)

"If Sarah Palin is to be believed, then I reckon Prince would be a perfect fit as Obama's Health Care Czar."

He'd probably be the most musical of the czars.

Oh, different Prince.

or we pull in the mercs in a pinch.

But why pull in the mercs through a private company, rather than hiring them directly for short tours in the Army?

If they're in the Army they are subject to Army rules, whatever. I see no reason to use a private company as an intermediary.

What is completely forgoten is what happens when there is a slowdown in neeed for mercenaries(like that is ever going to happen considering US foreign policy) What happens when all those are left without a job and medical coverage. Just imagine them released in the unemployment and with police cuts shortfall riden states with all that PTSD enraged maniacs used to killing.
There is a huge problem with regular soldiers with PTSD already. Imagine these maniacs with less training and poor medical coverage (they would go to civilian doctors unlike soldiers that go to experienced VA docs) full of alcochol and need for grandiosity.

Jordan, the cynical anwer would be that the market for mercenaries worldwide is large enough that getting unemployed is not that much of a problem. It is alleged that Blackwater/Xe hired (maybe even deliberately) mercenaries form Chile and former Yugoslavia. And the latter are often pros from other countries in the first place (Russians, Germans etc.).

Hartmut,

They hired from South Africa and Central America as well.

But why pull in the mercs through a private company, rather than hiring them directly for short tours in the Army?

Good question, though there might be good reasons that I'm not aware of.

Two reasons for not hiing mercs diractly for a short tour in the Army. First one is that would be a way to get to green card, which already happened with some top hirees (according to claim from those two proteted witnesses, Rachel Madow) from Balkans.
Another reason is that Bush preffered private contractors as much as possible in all venues of government. It was a deliberate policy from republican administration to spread the government responsibility and money to private, well connected, enterprises.

And the question is: would professional mercenaries take that offer? Pay would probably lower and accountability higher, not to forget the enmity of the regular soldiers. The latter was 'bad' enough when the mercenaries where a third entity.

The right-wing of the United States political culture is a nationalist ethno-religious movement in the strongest Empire on earth.

...small government types? My butt.

Seriously, WFT? "The professional managers of violence are tempered by their loyalty to nation and state; even when they stray, they tend to do so in the name of the state."
Yep, doing it the name of state??? Good f*cking God.

Machiavelli's advice regarding mercenaries remains sound: The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. (The Prince, Chapter 12).

The only advantage that I see about mercenaries over a standing army is that the mercenary company can make big campaign donations - the cost savings of replacing a $20,000/year private with a $200,000/year mercenary otherwise escapes me.

Here's another gem from Machiavelli's "The Prince":

... mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness, either by oppressing you, who are their master, or others contrary to your intentions; but if the captain is not skilful, you are ruined in the usual way.

Isn't it interesting that Blackwater stands accused of the same types of excesses that mercenaries have always committed throughout history?

Pay doesn't have to be lower.

Maybe the added accountability would deter some would-be mercenaries, but that's a feature, not a bug.

As to enmity, I don't know, obviously, but it doesn't seem that it would be that much worse. They'd be doing the same stuff they do now.

""semi-automatic machine guns "

Super-minor, trivial point, but what the heck is a semi-automatic machine gun? It's like saying a semi-automatic, automatic gun. Maybe it makes sense--I'm not exactly a firearms expert, so it might be an automatic weapon altered to fire semi-automatic, or maybe it's just garbled.

"so it might be an automatic weapon altered to fire semi-automatic,"

It's a deposition, which are given orally, so people speak off-the-cuff.

Signed, guy who once, among his many past jobs, worked for law firms, and transcribed many many depositions from audio recordings into word-processed form (back when they were dedicated word-processors, before and just after the invention of personal computers; back when some of us worked our big Wangs).

Totally digressive computer geek footnote: gee, I hadn't realized that the last ghost of Wang only perished last year.

Here is an interesting piece from 2007 that discusses the relevance to the Machiavelli formulation to Blackwater, and the total failure of oversight and accountability it received.
http://mountainrunner.us/2007/10/mercenaries_useless_and_danger.html
I don't agree with all the author's conclusions (and really, really want to outlaw private armies, posing as 'security'...)

A quick google only turns up combined figures, so I'll ask, is there is a significant difference in the deployment of mercs in Iraq versus Afghanistan? My impression is that there is, possibly because of differences between the two countries (cf Rumsfeld claiming that there were no more targets in Afghanistan via Richard Clarke)

On the other hand, this WPR piece suggests that Eastern European military contractors are being used in Afghanistan. This piece hints at redeployment of mercs in Afghanistan. I think this has an impact of Eric's thesis about US involvement in Afghanistan, but I'd like to get some more information on any differences in deployment before suggesting what that might be.

"Training and lifetime benefits."

I think this has been addressed, but in case not: many of the folks working for Blackwater etc are ex-military. Their training came through the public dime, and they will still receive retirement benefits etc.

So there's no real saving there.

If we want to have people under arms around the globe, we need to have a bigger military.

If we don't want a bigger military, we need to scale back our plans.

And yeah, the fact that the folks making billions off of the GWOT are close associates of, and donors to, the folks who started the wars is not a coincidence.

Those are good links, LJ. I particularly note this part, specifically about Afghanistan:

[...] However, the episode did reveal that Paravant, which has a contract to train the Afghan police, is a discreet subsidiary of Blackwater, the biggest mercenary company in the world and symbol of the privatization of war during the Bush years, involved in multiple killings and assassinations in Iraq and renamed Xe. It also revealed that these men respected neither the law nor their contract, bearing arms outside of their service, AK-47s that can be purchased in the black market for a few dollars.

[...]

"There will be no reversal" in policy, thinks one American officer. "Unless it significantly increases defense budgets, the Obama administration will not be able to renationalize war. Yet these guys only make problems for us. Apart from their earning ten times more money than our soldiers, they are not subject to a single one of our rules. They have neither command nor sanction. We try to rally the population, while they don't give a fuck. They come to earn dollars and they leave." The four mercenaries who opened fire May 5 were fired by Blackwater. But in other similar cases, men have returned to the field through another company or a dummy company.

"The more war there is, the more mercenary activity there is," rejoices "Bob," a British mercenary speaking under the cover of anonymity. "The novelty is that after September 11, our activities became super-legal. We've never made so much money. It's a golden age." He acknowledges that the "arrival of the guys from Iraq poses a problem, because, here, we have to be more discreet, not machine-gun civilians like they did over there." "Bob" concedes that his employers' interests differ from those of NATO: "The American and British and other armies are here to win a war. For us, the more the security situation deteriorates, the better it is."

Woot!

Thanks for pulling that part out Gary, and the part I want to focus on is this

"He acknowledges that the "arrival of the guys from Iraq poses a problem, because, here, we have to be more discreet, not machine-gun civilians like they did over there." "Bob" concedes that his employers' interests differ from those of NATO"

Perhaps it is simply the presence of a NATO command structure that is the difference, but this underlines how Afghanistan is different from Iraq. Eric has strongly argued how we should get out of Afghanistan with all due speed, but the differing deployment points to differing motivations behind the two fronts. Eric has argued that the 'denying terrorists a base' is a mistaken motivation, and I've argued that while that is presented for domestic consumption, the reality is that the US committment in Afghanistan is predicated on perhaps two basic realities, which are domestic public opinion viewing a withdrawal as a defeat, the necessity of maintaining operations in Afghanistan in order to pressure Pakistan to deal with the various fundamentalist forces. This suggests a third, which is that NATO allies, while not deeply invested in Afghanistan, will view a US withdrawal as evidence of an inability to provide true follow thru on foreign policy goals, a point on which Obama has to distinguish himself from the previous administration.

"This suggests a third, which is that NATO allies, while not deeply invested in Afghanistan, will view a US withdrawal as evidence of an inability to provide true follow thru on foreign policy goals, a point on which Obama has to distinguish himself from the previous administration."

This statement I don't understand. Can you expand on it?

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