Friday, 5 October 2007

No "Greatest Generation" Here: Blackwater in Iraq

So it costs the US $40-50,000 to have an Army sergeant in Iraq, but someone who is doing similar military work for Blackwater costs $400,000? Those were figures bandied about this week during Congressional hearings on the role of the mercenary force which seems to be taking up so much space in the US war effort.

This a shocking discrepancy. Worse, the lack of oversight and responsibility behind such a gun-for-hire force is enough to blow you out of the water. But American hawks learned one thing in Vietnam: you don’t want conscript army because that means when the fighting gets tough all levels of society will be affected and the public's ire will be awakened.

To avoid that, from the beginning of the Iraq adventure the US relied heavily on military reservists as way to get around the penury of volunteer soldiers. The reserves were full of guys and gals who thought they would get their college bills paid by being weekend warriors, many of whom were surprised and not at all pleased to be called upon to fight a real war. But there were never enough of them, and, worse, they have families who can write letters and protest when they see their loved ones killed.

This is where Blackwater comes in. As Paul Krugman pointed in The New York Times a week ago, the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined. These losses, however, don’t carry the same political consequences, and so an effective brake on foreign adventuring has been removed. The Blackwater guys appear to be a law unto themselves too: it certainly isn’t clear from the testimony before Congress if their actions are even coordinated with the rest of US military strategy.

How ironic that the hearings on Blackwater began as Ken Burns' documentary The War was being aired and talked about. Memories of Iraq war are going to be quite different from those of World War II even though, as Krugman noted, American forces have been in Iraq for four and a half years, longer than they were engaged in the Second World War.

After that war was over the U.S (and Canada too) quite rightly rewarded veterans with a number of benefits. Chief among them were cheap loans to buy houses and support for further education. A good argument can be made that these measures both helped fulfill the American dream of opportunity for all and fueled the prosperity of the mid-20th century. See Taylor Branch's thoughtful essay in April 12, 2007 New York Review of Books, for more on this.

We won't have that kind of peace bonus when this mess is over. Whenever that will be.

Local note: It seems "selected Canadian troops" bound for Afghanistan are being trained by Blackwater at their installation in North Carolina in "shooting and bodyguarding skills." Which means what?

(Thanks to Carol Green for the Canadian reference.)


RoseCovered Glasses said...

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak. I believed another Vietnam could be avoided with defined missions and the best armaments in the world.

It made no difference.

We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

For more details see:

Martin Langeland said...

Blackwater is perfect proof that the free market delivers services much more efficiently then government does. Why accept 40k for a dirty horrible job if private enterprise can reward you 10 times as well with less accountability?

Yes my tongue is most firmly lodged in my cheek, except that the Republics really do seem to believe this.