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December 11, 2009

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Not to mention the cost. The very existence of Blackwater and its ilk and the fact that the US government is willing to pay them large amounts of money for operations means that highly-trained US military servicepeople face a choice between continuing in military service or doing virtually the same job in the private sector for vastly more money. I certainly don't think people should be underpaid doing such dangerous jobs, but effectively in this situation the government is bidding against itself for the services of these people. If it was simply "work for the US military, or take a non-military civilian job" when they become free agents, the US would still need to pay competitive wages. But it wouldn't be bidding against itself the way it is now.

The military should not be a place where people can carve out their own for-profit empires. It's bad enough already that manufacturing defense contractors have a strong profit motive in seeing the US at war. When entire sections of the military are privatized you're going to see far more recycling of the lax military budget through these firms and back into politics to support hawkish candidates. This is just not a direction the US can afford to risk.

If the problem is that the US can't pay enough to attract people to stay in the most dangerous jobs, the answer is to pay them more - as US military service members. If the problem is a lack of innovation in the US military, that's something to address directly, perhaps in consultation with private groups, but outsourcing the whole thing doesn't help build the capacity in the US military where it's needed.

More proof that the CIA should be an intelligence agency, not an operations agency (if it should exist at all).

And then there's this:
http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/news/2009/12/ap_source_blackwater_missile_contract_ended.php

Hopefully this is a trend.

I wish that all of the contracts with Blackwater would be cancelled.

When I was in grade school in the 1950's, and learning the (legends version) of the Revolutionary War, one of the ways they taught how evil the British were was because they used :::gasp!!::: Hessian mercenaries.

The obverse was: the mercenaries were easy to beat because they did it for money, not out of belief.

Those that forget [even the oversimplified] past...

In 2004, out of the military, out of work and facing a mountain of debt, I took a job as a mercenary Military Intelligence collector in Iraq. (I'm not proud of it, and can safely say it was the single worst decision I have ever made.) I don't know anyone in MI in Iraq who would be surprised by this story. Actually, I assumed everyone knew this, since no one makes much of an effort to hide it over there. I keep forgetting just how hazy a picture of our wars we get back home.

I don't know, I find that Blackwater mercenary methods might be useful in defending ourselves against the internal enemies of the United States.

I don't see why your average American citizen can't possess, say, an arsenal of predator drones. I think I could get the NRA on board with this.

For example, if I could remotely command a predator drone over the FOX studios, it would save me the trouble of throwing my shoe at the T.V. each time Glenn Beck opens his mouth and lays out his dangerous plans to destroy my country.

I'd start small, maybe sending a missile up Sheriff Joe Arpaio's wazoo down there in Maricopa County, for practice.

The thought of vaporizing Dick Armey mid-sentence gives me a warm, patriotic feeling deep down in the patriotism glands.

Teabaggers -- geez -- why target just individuals when imbeciles who want to kill me like to gather in groups in funny hats right out in the open?

It wouldn't cost much. I'd work for free, because the stakes are so high.

Hell, I wouldn't even need a beret or anything... I could do this important work in my bathrobe from home.

Thullen wins, as usual.

Sometimes I wonder why the rest of us bother....

I don't really know why I think this is important, but I do. The roles we have mercenaries in are not roles you can "pay someone more in the Army" to do. They are, by nature, high risk, often with non specific timelines, constantly fluid and require both a certain mentality and skill set. Then they can become boring.

There are some good reasons for using them and some reasons of convenience, but having a concentration of the skill sets involved at the right place at the right time is the best one.

I don't support breaking the standing rules of engagement and other abuses, but they do serve a purpose that is valuable.

In a world where recruiters spend months recruiting two or three people into the few jobs authorized to be filled, only to start training them so that they will be qualified for those job in a few years, for a military constantly understaffed.....the flexibility to hire immediately qualified people is like any other contracting, it serves a purpose.

The military contracts for all sorts of things, people provide good and bad service. Blackwater may be either or, at times, both, but the concept isn't intrinsically bad.

I also think that we have used mercenaries through the years (Lafitte comes to mind immediately, we pardoned him so he would help us in the War of 1812) in very effective ways. Despite our disdain of those Hessians.

And, as for spooks, we will always argue over the line between what we need from them and the control we want to have in a world where those two things are always at odds.

the flexibility to hire immediately qualified people is like any other contracting, it serves a purpose.

Where did those people get their qualifications?

only to start training them so that they will be qualified for those job in a few years, for a military constantly understaffed

What russell said, and to underline it... why are they understaffed?

"What russell said, and to underline it... why are they understaffed?"

The answers are,

1) mostly someones military, often ours.

2) They are understaffed because it is an all volunteer military that struggles to match hundreds of thousands of volunteers to jobs they are qualified to do and jobs that need to be done. The nature of an all volunteer army is lots of people join for the benefits, do their three years and get out, requiring a constant flow of people who just get trained before they get out. Then we argue about the defense budget, the vast majority of which goes to recruiting, training, paying and supporting those troops. So they cut troop slots and close bases, until they need them, then fill the slots with mercenaries.

So if you don't like mercs then figure out how to get an infinite variable supply of troops trained and waiting for the next assignment.

Marty, you seem like you're willfully missing the point. One of the reasons (and I don't pretend it's the only one, by any means) they're understaffed for these highly specialized jobs that take years of training to prepare for... is that the personnel they train for them can wait out their service contract, then turn around and earn vastly more for doing the same job by quitting the military and joining a contracting mercenary company.

That we're hiring mercenaries in these situations is exacerbating military specialist job shortfalls. They're getting their training at government expense, then being encouraged to quit the service to gouge the government to use those skills as a contractor. If we didn't routinely "privatize" these jobs, there would be less (and I don't argue it would only be "less") problems with retention in these areas. This is a vicious cycle, albeit one that is not impossible to break out of.

Marty's 9:20 comment: Are you willing to defend Blackwater, the mercenary firm that is the subject of this story? Your posts read as if you only want to support mercenaries in the abstract and are unwilling to discuss either the specifics of this post or the specific mercenary firm under discussion.

Whether or not the use of mercenaries is "intrinsically bad" in all hypothetical scenarios is of no interest at all.

So if you don't like mercs then figure out how to get an infinite variable supply of troops trained and waiting for the next assignment.

Or don't do things like invade Iraq.

But honestly, I would rather have a draft than use mercs. With a draft in place, the US public might actually develop an aversion to war.

So if you don't like mercs then figure out how to get an infinite variable supply of troops trained and waiting for the next assignment.

Because this is a pre-requisite for any prosperous nation, of course.

In re to Marty, what Russel and NV* said makes complete sense.

*this, I'm surprised to be saying

WHEN for the love of all did a freedom-loving people like us decide we needed an infinite supply of troops on tap, waiting for assignment? Certainly no one asked me to support that - or the wars of "opportunity" that arise in the presence of a large and (even semi-) well-equipped standing army.

Marty & I are roughly contemporaneous, but I cannot see where he draws this idea that mercenaries are a trapping of independence and not of empire. If Marty represents a level-headed 'traditionalist' view, perhaps he will explain how he finds the roots of his policy preferences in the debates of the Founding Fathers...I thought they were against both standing armies and foreign 'adventures'.

Still, Marty must be able to explain this to me so that I can understand how he can seem so totally the opposite of a strict traditional Constitutional stance: his views can't be incompatible, can they? At least it is clear that he is NOT thinking about the things he is busy not thinking about.

Word to Eric on the draft...

"One of the reasons (and I don't pretend it's the only one, by any means) they're understaffed for these highly specialized jobs that take years of training to prepare for... is that the personnel they train for them can wait out their service contract, then turn around and earn vastly more for doing the same job by quitting the military and joining a contracting mercenary company."

Exactly, but I fail to see how this disputes my point in any way. But the wording is telling, they can "wait out" their contracts? So does this apply to all civilian contractors and government services employeess who were trained in the military or just mercs? Should we make sure we don't give people career opportunities through military service or just deny them if they are going to continue to use soldier skills?

Also, wouldn't we need more mercenaries if we didn't have a standing armay?

And finally, if you really aren't interested elm, I am ok with that.

Eric: But honestly, I would rather have a draft than use mercs.

A conscript Army would face an even worse turnover problem than a volunteer Army. Conscripts are even less likely than volunteers to stick around for years of training. And if they stick around long enough to put that training to use, they are by definition volunteers.

But volunteers are just low-paid mercenaries anyway. If we want to preen ourselves on being a military superpower, we can't avoid hiring mercenaries. It's the "superpower" bit that's the fundamental problem.

--TP

Exactly, but I fail to see how this disputes my point in any way.

Marty, it "disputes your point" in that it's incredible for you to simultaneously complain that it's oh-so-difficult for the military to retain specialists, and also praise the practice of hiring ex-military personnel for significantly higher salaries to perform those selfsame jobs. As I said, it quite seems like you're willfully missing the point. The point is not "how dare people take skills they learned working for the government and put them to private use", it's "why on earth is the military perpetuating a system that encourages service personnel to quit explicitly so that they can be rehired as civilians at vastly higher rates".

Also, wouldn't we need more mercenaries if we didn't have a standing armay?

Excuse me, what? Is this somehow supposed to follow from my comments, or are you doing a single scattershot response to all dissenting comments since your last one? No one in this thread has proposed the elimination of a standing army that I've seen. They've questioned the need and wisdom for the military to have access to effectively unlimited personnel resources.

And even if we didn't have a standing army, that would only make us "need more mercenaries" if we were just as given to adventurism without a large at-the-ready force as we are with it. Given the political cost of raising an army from scratch (or even from a skeleton staff of professionals) out of a civilian population, we would likely have less need, not more. Which is very much the point of the (spot-on) comments above regarding the draft.

Should we make sure we don't give people career opportunities through military service or just deny them if they are going to continue to use soldier skills?

Military and security ops are not like other "job skills". They involve killing people and blowing stuff up. So, we'd like to make sure that we keep that particular skill set under civilian control and military discipline.

Which quite frequently doesn't happen when guns-for-hire are involved. Hence, the problem.

For the record, Lafitte was not a mercenary. He was a privateer. The significant difference between mercenaries and privateers is that privateers are self-funding. They have a license, in the form of a letter of marque, to raid hostile shipping. Start-up costs -- ships, crew, provisions, arms -- are provided by capital investors, who get a piece of the pie.

No tax dollars involved. It was a pure capitalist model of war-making.

I say "was" because the use of privateers was banned in the mid-19th C in the Treaty of Paris. Letters of marque as well, if I'm not mistaken. They was banned because they were prone to all of the same problems and abuses that folks now cite about mercenaries.

We no longer engage in guns-for-hire via privateering. We should no longer engage in guns-for-hire via outsourced security ops.

Regarding standing armies and the motivation of people to stay in them: post Pearl Harbor, there was no need to "motivate" people to serve under arms. Folks stepped up. That's because there was a clear threat to the nation.

Likewise after 9/11, military recruitment was not a problem.

If there is a lack of popular will to carry out a military adventure, perhaps that should indicate that it's not something we should pursue.

If you have to pay people six figure salaries to do your dirty work, perhaps the dirty work should not be done.

Russell,

The delta between popular support of staffing the military(volunteers or support for the draft) and ebbs and flows with the perceived immediacy of the threatnot the reality. The assumption we should let that be the indicator of whether we should be engaged militarily is not one I would agree with.

NV, yes it was a pretty much scattershot response to all of the comments in between, I am travelling and my time is limited this week.

And for whoever, while Lafitte was a privateer, he was a criminal that we pardoned to help us and I would love to see anything that says we didn't pay him.


Last, I am not willfully missing any point NV. In our miltary we require a longer committment for certain jobs, but we can't create indentured servants because we teach them to protect and kill more effectively. The basis of your point that I interpret as "we should figure out a way to force them to stay", isn't realistic. I don't know what else to say about it.

The basis of your point that I interpret as "we should figure out a way to force them to stay", isn't realistic. I don't know what else to say about it.

I think you've sorely misinterpreted what NV's point was. It wasn't that "we should figure out a way to force them to stay." It was that we shouldn't make it so profitable for them to leave. So, indentured servitude, not so much.

Quite.

HSH, those are two sides of the same coin. It assumes that people leave the service with the intent to be mercenaries and that the only place they get trained is in the service. I am not surprised that it would be expensive to get people to put themselves in harms way once no longer required to. I agree some number are "greedy folks who leave the service to take advantage of us taxpayers". However many leave with other intentions and find they need a good paying job. I am not sure how we would make that less attractive, or if we should.

It assumes that people leave the service with the intent to be mercenaries and that the only place they get trained is in the service.

No, it doesn't. It makes no assumptions to that effect, nor need it. It observes that the US military engages in contracting procedures that create perverse incentives whereby the "solution" to a problem exacerbates the problem.

I am not surprised that it would be expensive to get people to put themselves in harms way once no longer required to.

The solution, then, is better pay for service members in order to retain them, and a cessation of contracting with mercenary companies. This is better for morale, and for accountability. If you absolutely "need" to have occasional on-demand specialists, work up some tempting contract to entice critical-needs personnel to take long-duration stints in the reserves. But stop offloading military responsibilities to civilian-run for-profit corporations outside of the chain of command.

"The solution, then, is better pay for service members in order to retain them, and a cessation of contracting with mercenary companies. This is better for morale, and for accountability. If you absolutely "need" to have occasional on-demand specialists, work up some tempting contract to entice critical-needs personnel to take long-duration stints in the reserves. But stop offloading military responsibilities to civilian-run for-profit corporations outside of the chain of command."

I am fine with contracting mercenaries differently, maybe even a better way. We would still be using mercenaries and there is no evidence that creating highly paid mercenaries in uniform would be any more effective in maintaining discipline and accountability than outsourcing. But if it makes everyone feel better about it then it is certainly ok with me.


there is no evidence that creating highly paid mercenaries in uniform would be any more effective in maintaining discipline and accountability than outsourcing.

Look, a woman employee of KBR was gang raped. Private US embassy guards in Afghanistan, employees of ArmourGroup, had their very public lord of the flies moment, drinking vodka off of each others' asses and getting locals involved in their frat boy antics. A Blackwater guard got drunk and shot the Iraqi Vice President's bodyguard, and then was flown out of Iraq by Blackwater before any action could be taken against him.

And the list goes on, and on, and on.

I don't think you can away with sh*t like that if you're US uniformed military.

There are, in fact, mountains of evidence that uniformed military are far, far, far more accountable than private security.

There have been very recent changes in the law to make more explicit UCMJ jurisdiction over contractors, and by "very recent" I mean 2006 and 2007. But it's still not clear how that will play out if push comes to shove. And it also doesn't account for all of the contractors who are employed by State and by the CIA, who are not under UCMJ jurisdiction.

If KBR brings in private security to guard a construction site in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they all get drunk and burn down the local mosque, or rape somebody's daughter, how are they brought to account? Are they subject to local law enforcement? Who's going to make them surrender, the Iraqi or Afghan police?

And how are events like that, which are far from infrequent, going to affect our objectives?

The US military is not a software shop, a home cleaning service, or a customer service desk. The goal is not to find the lowest-cost solution for providing "security services". The goal is to achieve the critical political and national security interests of the nation, period.

We do not want critical, or even non-critical, military or other security functions handled by outsourced private actors, because their first loyalty is to themselves and their shareholders, not to any oath they've taken to the constitution or the nation, and they cannot and, in practice, have not demonstrated themselves to be able to be brought under the control of military discipline.

I appreciate that the Revolution was partly fought and won by guys like Lafayette and von Steuben. We have our own army now, and quite a good one. If we're going to spend $1000 plus a day for "security services", we should be spending it on folks who have sworn their loyalty to the nation and to its defense. Not to guys who are cashing in on taxpayer-provided training to land a "good paying job".


"There are, in fact, mountains of evidence that uniformed military are far, far, far more accountable than private security."

No there isn't. There are just a bunch of instances where mercenaries have done bad things. In fact, some believe that Mylai and Abu Ghraib represent a small subset of identified acts that scapegoats have been held accountable for, but most of the time the military is not held accountable.

"We do not want critical, or even non-critical, military or other security functions handled by outsourced private actors, because their first loyalty is to themselves and their shareholders..."

How do you know who their first loyalty is to? This is an absurd assertion that somehow these people aren't patriotic or moral, yet in previous posts everyone recognizes these are the same people who were in the military. Suddenly they are immoral actors because they moved to a private firm? I don't buy that.

People who join the military for every reason between escaping poverty and wanting to legally kill people are not by definition highly moral (or immoral) actors. It makes me doubt if you have actually served in the military to understand how ludicrous your comparisons of the actors are.

And, finally, let me assure you that frat boy antics are the order of the day anytime you get thousands (or even hundreds)of 18-25 year olds in exotic or boring places waiting to kill or be killed and then give them a night on the town, military or mercenary.


How do you know who their first loyalty is to? This is an absurd assertion that somehow these people aren't patriotic or moral, yet in previous posts everyone recognizes these are the same people who were in the military. Suddenly they are immoral actors because they moved to a private firm? I don't buy that.

Here's the thing: If uniformed military is given a critical mission, the men must stay and fight and see it through no matter the difficulty. They can't decide before or during the mission that they don't want to participate any more.

Mercs can.

They are private citizens operating under a contract. They don't go to jail for breaching a contract. The don't get court martialed. They can't be compelled to sign a new contract.

Further, the incentives can be skewed. In Iraq, the complaint about Blackwater was that its mission was to protect the diplomats it was securing - at all costs. Meaning, they were quick to spray up a car that got too close, and otherwise use force under very relaxed ROE, because of how they viewed their mission. They didn't care for COIN or civilian attitudes toward the occupation. They wanted to maintain an unblemished record for security. Which they did.

"They don't go to jail for breaching a contract. The don't get court martialed. They can't be compelled to sign a new contract."

Neither do our soldiers, all of whom have a contract. Worst case they get general dischargeunless the desert in the middle of battle, then consequences are greater for either actor.

As for the rest Eric, we like to think of our military in the best possible light, I do too. I certainly am the first person to say that they do a great job.

Should it have been our militarys' mission to secure the diplomats at all costs? Let's assume yes.

Would the results have been different? I think not.

Would our soldiers have required relaxed ROE to accomplish that mission? Absolutely.

Would innocents have been killed to accomplish it? Absolutely.

Would the political consequences of failure been greater? Most certainly.

Our uniformed soldiers doing that job would have been less good for us, either if we failed to protect the diplomats or succeeded by using whatever means necessary.

No there isn't. There are just a bunch of instances where mercenaries have done bad things.

Actually, there a bunch of instances where mercenaries have done bad things *and not been held accountable, because the legal or other mechanisms for holding them to account did not exist*.

This is an absurd assertion that somehow these people aren't patriotic or moral

If my assertion was that uniformed military were all patriotic and moral, while mercenaries never were, that would in fact be absurd.

That wasn't my assertion.

Enlisted and commissioned US uniformed personnel are bound by an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the US against all enemies foreign and domestic. Enlisted personnel further swear to obey all orders of the President and all officers above them in the chain of command, according to the regulations of the UCMJ.

Mercenaries are bound by whatever terms are specified in their employment contracts.

It's not about the personal qualities, or lack thereof, of the individual actors. It's about the degree of control we have over their actions, and the level of accountability they are subject to if they act badly, or even just outside of the intentions and interests of US policy.

It makes me doubt if you have actually served in the military

Allow me to remove that doubt. I have never served in the military.

How that is relevant to the factual question of the terms and conditions, legal or otherwise, that uniformed military operate under as compared to mercenaries, or to the factual reality of how the consequences of that play out in the real world, escapes me.

I don't give a flying f**k if mercenaries are wonderful, god-fearing, patriotic paragons of virtue. Or, maybe I do, but it's not really relevant to the question of whether it's a good idea for the US to outsource military and security ops.

What *is* relevant to the issue, or at least to *my reasons for thinking it's a really, really bad idea to outsource military and security ops*, is whether mercenaries can be held to the same standards of legal and military discipline that uniformed personnel are.

To me, it is quite obvious that they cannot. The "bunch of instances" is available in full measure, pressed down and shaken together.

It's not a matter of the personal qualities of the individuals involved, it's structural.

And this is nothing new. It has *always* been the problem with privatizing military and security functions. There is a reason "mercenary" is a perjorative term.

The only argument in favor of using mercenaries is that it gives us access to either skill sets or plain old warm bodies that aren't available to the uniformed military.

If that's the problem, then the solution is to make the skill sets and/or warm bodies available to the uniformed military.

We sure as hell spend enough money on the DoD, it's not like the financial resources ought to be lacking.

Russell,

My point here:

"No there isn't. There are just a bunch of instances where mercenaries have done bad things. In fact, some believe that Mylai and Abu Ghraib represent a small subset of identified acts that scapegoats have been held accountable for, but most of the time the military is not held accountable."

was that your assumption of a significant difference in accountability is just not borne out by my view of history, or experience in the service.

So, barring any real evidence which I don't think either of us can cite, we will have to disagree on that.

Marty: was that your assumption of a significant difference in accountability is just not borne out by my view of history, or experience in the service.

I'd agree with that in practical terms: when the US military commits atrocities and breaks international conventions, there is not much effort made to call the individuals or the line of command to account - how many murders have been committed by US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how many soldiers have been court-martialled for committing murder?

But there is at least the functional possibility that a US soldier who commits rape, murder or worse can be held to account by some legal authority, however unlikely it is that they ever will be: whereas a mercenary employed by the US military is free of any legal authority, and can't be either disciplined or prosecuted.

However minute the difference in your experience, Marty, however tiny the possibility in real terms that US soldiers who commit crimes against the occupied population will be called to account, legally they can be. And in principle, I think that's an important difference.

Neither do our soldiers, all of whom have a contract. Worst case they get general discharge unless the desert in the middle of battle, then consequences are greater for either actor.

What do you mean that if they desert in battle, the consequences are greater for either actor? They are far, far greater for the soldier.

Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct.

The merc gets...nothing but a possible lawsuit for certain wages paid for the services not performed. Kind of different.

Would the results have been different? I think not.

Actually, they would have been given the ROE governing our soldiers.

Would our soldiers have required relaxed ROE to accomplish that mission? Absolutely.

No, they would have had the same ROE that applies when the miltiary does protect such individuals. Which are more restrictive than Blackwaters. This is not hypothetical.

Would innocents have been killed to accomplish it? Absolutely.

Sure, but not as many. Which is the point.

You know, many officers in theater complain about the phenomenon I laid out, and how it complicates the mission, and undermines COIN. The officers in theater claim the mercs are too trigger happy, and only care about their product and not the effects on the war effort.

I'm repeating their arguments, not concocting my own.

"You know, many officers in theater complain about the phenomenon I laid out, and how it complicates the mission, and undermines COIN. The officers in theater claim the mercs are too trigger happy, and only care about their product and not the effects on the war effort."

Yes, Eric, I know. But if you go talk to ten officers they will have as many and widely varied opinions on this subject as are reflected in these blogs. Have you watched the generals on the news shows? The one thing they will almost all agree on is that the ROE is too restrictive and it costs them lives that the agencies don't have to lose. I would rather hear from 1st LT platoon leaders than Majors about what this impact really is, we don't get tons of 1st Lieutenant quotes

This IS a hypothetical argument because we are arguing about how it would be if the Blackwaters didn't exist, not about what happens today. Things would be different if there was the requirement to ensure we had all of the necessary trained people to accomplish those missions.

Most important, is the command would demand that they get to protect their resources better: changing the ROE would be first, because the places we provide it with troops now are the most likely ones that we feel can be done within the existing ROE and the rest are given to the mercs. Officers always complain when someone else get to defend themselves better.

And, as for deserters, what I meant was they are both likely to succumb to friendly fire. However, I really don't see this as a key point of risk or contention in this discussion, just IMO.

And, Jes, I agree the distinction is important, I don't think it outweighs the myriad other pros or cons.


This is a terribly frustrating thread to read. As I see it, there should be no controversy regarding the problems with the way we have been found to be using contractors for military and intelligence operations. The story here is the growing evidence THAT we have been using them that way. It's really not a question at all of whether or not what's being found out is bad, rather a matter of finding out bad things and the true scope thereof with greater and greater certainty.

This argument over the morality or effectiveness of using mercenaries rather than uniformed military is a bunch of rhetorical blather of the kind that can be made over anything more complicated than 2+2, and it gets us nowhere. I don't think Marty is arguing in bad faith, but the end result is the same. I honestly don't get it.


This IS a hypothetical argument because we are arguing about how it would be if the Blackwaters didn't exist, not about what happens today. Things would be different if there was the requirement to ensure we had all of the necessary trained people to accomplish those missions.

But Marty, these missions are performed by US military and, when not available, mercs. So it's not hypothetical because we have examples of each scenario in practice.

For both HSH and Eric, The US military uses mercenaries. Thats not what they call them, they call them contrators. They have used them since I was in the service in the early 70's. I don't understand why this seems to surprise people.

My point was that using mercenaries is a reality that, outside specific incidents that are no more or less than our own military might have, isn't a good or bad thing and that the companies and individuals are no less capable of providing those services than our military is, for those services we buy.

I do have a limit to that position which is: if they were taking over operational control of weapons systems, for example, as an outsourcing contract my line would be drawn there.

It really wasn't meant to be overly complex or morality based. I just think saying its bad because all those contractors are bad guys isn't true.

Our guys fight next to a lot of guys from other countries militaries who haven't sworn to protect and defend our Constitution. That doesn't seem to bother anyone so much.

Finally, I think the making a lot of money argument is silly when they are in harms way every day. That way I don't have to be there, thanks guys.

For both HSH and Eric, The US military uses mercenaries. Thats not what they call them, they call them contrators. They have used them since I was in the service in the early 70's. I don't understand why this seems to surprise people.

I don't recall expressing surprise. However, what is new, and different from the 1970s, is the types of missions given to the contractors, and how widespread their use is. That is a cause for concern, if not shock.

I just think saying its bad because all those contractors are bad guys isn't true.

Again, I didn't actually say that. Or anything close to it. I just said that there are incentive, chain of command and discipline issues. Which there are. And that these issues can create problems. Which they have.

Now, for turnaround's sake, I don't know why that is so surprising to you.

Finally, I think the making a lot of money argument is silly when they are in harms way every day. That way I don't have to be there, thanks guys.

The "making a lot of money" argument is silly the way that you made it. But the argument is actually that we are creating an incentive for highly trained personnel to leave the service so that they can take private gigs that pay much better. If we didn't pay much better for the private gigs, then less soldiers would leave the military. Or so the ACTUAL argument goes.

And, Jes, I agree the distinction is important, I don't think it outweighs the myriad other pros or cons.

The myriad other pros and cons? The only pro I've seen you cite is that it helps make critical-needs skills available. But the thing is, you're not willing to countenance the possibility that we can do this in other than a "free market" fashion, or that the free-market "solution" is aggravating the problem it "solves". This is an ideological point for you. You're dismissing the possibility that any other solution could work better than hiring corporate mercs, even though hiring mercs isn't working all that great.

Also... you've consistently argued that we "need" mercs because they have skills that we can't retain military personnel for. How, exactly, does that logic apply to things like providing militarized security for government personnel in-theater? That's hardly something requiring years of specialized training. That's a result of free-market ideologues outsourcing every military role they can get away with (and getting away with a broader and broader range as time goes by), because the market-based solution is always better and cheaper. Even when it's not.

Look. Better pay for specialists in the military would not make them "highly paid mercenaries in uniform", as you so charmingly put it. The legal definition explicitly excludes this from being the case, and I would say with cause. If we need to expand the ranks of the military because of our imperial adventurism, do it. But do it honestly. Don't outsource this crap.

Our guys fight next to a lot of guys from other countries militaries who haven't sworn to protect and defend our Constitution. That doesn't seem to bother anyone so much.

Because they've done their nation's equivalent. Obviously. You make your argument hard to take seriously when you refuse to take ours seriously, ya know.

Finally, I think the making a lot of money argument is silly when they are in harms way every day. That way I don't have to be there, thanks guys.

This is, you know, effectively thumbing your nose and blowing an enormous raspberry at our uniformed military personnel. Why do you hate the troops, Marty?

Or for a less exasperated and snarky version, what Eric said.

"This is an ideological point for you. You're dismissing the possibility that any other solution could work better than hiring corporate mercs, even though hiring mercs isn't working all that great."

NV,

No, this is an ideological discussion for you. You can't, or won't, accept that the current market method might be meeting the demand.

You also don't acknowledge that the military has the authority to write the contracts to enforce any ROE they want and can, if they wanted, make the contractors responsible legally at any level to any country's laws. They could even require them to take the oath.

You just want Blackwater to be bad guys.

I am not even sure what else you disagree with.


Eric

"But the argument is actually that we are creating an incentive for highly trained personnel to leave the service so that they can take private gigs that pay much better. If we didn't pay much better for the private gigs, then less soldiers would leave the military. Or so the ACTUAL argument goes."

First, that incentive exists in the market worldwide, we aren't creating it. We are contracting for a service that exists if we use it or not.

Second, you have no facts that suggest anyone would stay in the service barring our purchasing those services.

Lastly, creating significant compensation differences for specialized skills inside the military has as big if not bigger impact on chain of command and discipline issues.

Suggesting one soldier is significantly more special than another is a bigger problem than the current system. Barring a substantial pay difference, they will always be able to make more as contractors.

You are simply not defining a problem that needs the dramatic solution you are proposing or a rational alternative.

No, this is an ideological discussion for you. You can't, or won't, accept that the current market method might be meeting the demand.

Excuse me? I'm extremely sorry, but in the context of this thread that makes zero sense. No one here has said anything about the market not meeting the demand. We've freely admitted it can and does. Our complaint has been regarding the effects of the market meeting the demand.

You also don't acknowledge that the military has the authority to write the contracts to enforce any ROE they want and can, if they wanted, make the contractors responsible legally at any level to any country's laws. They could even require them to take the oath.

As has been observed, there have been moves in that direction (e.g., making mercenaries accountable to the UCMJ). One is highly curious why you seem so offended by the notion of mercenaries being bound by the same regulations as service personnel. The best explanations I can come up with for why they currently aren't tend to be fairly uncharitable; perhaps you can lay out a clear rationale that doesn't involving circumventing existing rules to produce subjectively "better" results?

First, that incentive exists in the market worldwide, we aren't creating it. We are contracting for a service that exists if we use it or not.

That the market exists does not by itself mean we should be taking part in it.

Also, quite pointedly, that I can go do similar work to my current job for more money in the service of another country is not the same thing as being able to do my own job for my own country for more money. Patriotism is an issue here. I'm surprised I need to point that out to you.

Second, you have no facts that suggest anyone would stay in the service barring our purchasing those services.

Um. Plenty of people do, to the best of my knowledge. Weren't we discussing contracting mercenaries to fill staffing shortfalls, not to fill positions for which we had zero personnel capable of fulfilling the task?

But taken at face value, this claim doesn't stand all that well. You have no facts that suggest more would not stay if they couldn't flip to the private sector to still work for the US military as a corporate contractor on a higher pay scale.

Barring a substantial pay difference, they will always be able to make more as contractors.

Not if the contracting jobs do not exist. Which is rather the entire point.

I'm curious why you feel that it would be worse for morale and discipline to e.g. increase re-enlistment bonuses for critical-needs specialists than the current situation where you have civilians doing military tasks with less discipline imposed for substantially higher compensation. It's not like bonuses currently are evenly doled out; they're generally apportioned based on the skills the personnel are bringing to the table.

"The best explanations I can come up with for why they currently aren't tend to be fairly uncharitable; perhaps you can lay out a clear rationale that doesn't involving circumventing existing rules to produce subjectively "better" results?"

I cant, and haven't. I certainly haven't said that the military shouldn't tighten up its contracting. In my first comment I said "I don't support breaking the standing rules of engagement and other abuses,.." and later "I am fine with contracting mercenaries differently, maybe even a better way".


I'm curious why you feel that it would be worse for morale and discipline to e.g. increase re-enlistment bonuses for critical-needs specialists than the current situation where you have civilians doing military tasks with less discipline imposed for substantially higher compensation

This is simply a matter of scale. To compete with a lucrative contracting market the pay and perks would have to be large enough to impact morale because of their delta to everyone else.


But taken at face value, this claim doesn't stand all that well. You have no facts that suggest more would not stay if they couldn't flip to the private sector to still work for the US military as a corporate contractor on a higher pay scale.

I think if you want to say we should change something to create a different result it would be your responsibility to have the facts that the change would work, not my responsibility to prove it wouldn't work.

Your recognition of the broader market:

"That the market exists does not by itself mean we should be taking part in it."

conflicts with your statement later:

Not if the contracting jobs do not exist. Which is rather the entire point.

Contracting jobs exist and will continue to exist, even if the US decided to never use them. While I recognize that some number of people would be more likely to contract if it wsa for the US, I think, since money is the motivation, the number who would not contract because of that distinction is pretty small. Certainly that difference wouldn't mean we suddenly had enough people in the service to replace the contractors we use.

and, finally

Um. Plenty of people do, to the best of my knowledge. Weren't we discussing contracting mercenaries to fill staffing shortfalls, not to fill positions for which we had zero personnel capable of fulfilling the task?

This distinction hasn't been made anywhere I can find. And the first line is simply willfully missing the point.

You can't, or won't, accept that the current market method might be meeting the demand.

The cult of the market will be the death of this nation.

I have no problem with outsourcing training, logistics other than in theater, medical care, or any other thing other than in-theater ops. If we want to hire civilians to cook and serve food at domestic bases, or perform training, or to load stuff on transport planes, or anything else of the sort, that's fine with me.

IMVHO we should not be outsourcing in-theater operations. In other words, once you're in a place where actual harm can be caused, all of the actors should be military personnel, sworn by the appropriate oath, subject to the UCMJ.

The reason for that is that the consequences of irresponsible or otherwise bad behavior in those environments is extraordinarily dire.

Theoretically you could make mercenaries subject to all of the same disciplines that uniformed military are, but in practice and in fact, they are not.

It's true that uniformed military have been guilty of many of the same things that we've accused mercenaries of in this thread. It's also true that in many cases that has gone unpunished.

To me, that isn't really an argument for using mercenaries. It's an argument for improving uniformed military discipline.

Two final comments:

First, our use of mercenaries has been found to be in violation of the UN Mercenary Convention. We aren't a signatory to that document, and our attitude recently has generally been "f**k the UN", so of course the fact that we're in violation of an international convention on the use of mercenaries will have zero effect on what we do. Nonetheless, we're in violation.

Second, you mention that your view is shaped to some degree by your experience in the service in the early 70's. I'll point out that that was a particularly low point in the discipline and morale of the US military, largely because of our involvement in Vietnam. I'm not sure we would want your experience to be considered the norm.

To be as clear as I can be, this is not a criticism or any other form of negative comment about your personal experience in the service, nor is it a dismissal of your observation. It's just what I understand to be a historical fact.

While I recognize that some number of people would be more likely to contract if it wsa for the US, I think, since money is the motivation, the number who would not contract because of that distinction is pretty small.

Speaking of people conflicting their earlier statements, this doesn't exactly jive all that well with your earlier paeans to the presumed devotion and patriotism of "contractors".

More generally, I'm highly skeptical of your unsupported claim that eliminating the possibility to essentially increase one's pay and lowering the discipline one is subjected to without substantially changing either job or (ultimate) employer would have no real effect on retention. If absolutely nothing else, consider that it would change the situation from being one where overpaid contractors are rubbed into service member's faces day-in, day-out to one where they existed in the abstract "over there". I think if you want to make the claim that this would change little or nothing, it's somewhat incumbent on you to provide at least a modicum of support for your assertion.

Also, to use that extremely overused phrase, what russell said.

"To me, that isn't really an argument for using mercenaries. It's an argument for improving uniformed military discipline."

I would submit that most of what you say doesn't disagree with me except your conclusion.

I would say it is not an argument for or against using mercenaries, but an argument for improving discipline in general. Mercenaries can be made to toe the line just like our soldiers. In either case our expectations should not be different.

Yeah, I know this thread is old and dead, but it's the closest one that was talking about the use of contractors.

Here's a timely article from the WP about the Pentagon's effort to save money by replacing contractors with federal employees:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/23/AR2009122302972.html

"The Defense Department estimates it will save an average of $44,000 a year for every contractor it replaces with full-time federal personnel to perform critical defense jobs."

Jacob: Obviously the DoJ is unwilling to accept that the free market is currently meeting the demand in an efficient manner. These types of facts and specifics are very inconvenient to the pro-mercenary argument.

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