IN THE NEWS
Given the recent speculation about a draw-down of US forces in Iraq later this year, it's worth considering one possibility: the "draw-down" may turn out to be a replacement, not an actual reduction. Given how ubiquitous "contractors" already are in the Iraq deployment, it may be that the Bush Administration reduces the number of US soldiers while increasing the number of contractors. While that move may solve some domestic political problems, it can only make matters worse in Iraq. Mercenaries don't do quite the same job as uniformed US military personnel, for reasons that are all too familiar by now:
- Although some mercenaries are retired military veterans, they are of overall very mixed quality.
- The individual mercenary's commitment to Iraq lasts only as long as the next paycheck.
- Mercenaries remain in a murky netherworld outside the normal chain of command.
- It's still extremely hard to determine how these firms spend the US taxpayer's money. While it may be possible to do cost/benefit analysis of food services, normal military tasks--security, intelligence-gathering, offensive operations--are far harder to measure. Leaving aside whether these firms are overcharging for their services, it's not clear they're really doing the job.
- Accounting and accountability are frequently complicated by several layers of sub-contracting and subsidiaries.
And to the usual objections, I'll add one apropos of recent postings here on this blog:
- If the US military is having a hard time fighting a counterinsurgency war, how will the mercenaries do any better?
If you want a very stark picture of how bad the mercenary problem already is in Iraq, I suggest you watch the recent Frontline episode "Private Warriors," originally broadcast in June 2005 and recently re-broadcast.
It will be difficult to track whether mercenaries replace US military personnel pulled out of Iraq, but we will have to try.