VARIABLE – OUTSOURCED
COMBAT IN IRAQ
What Really Happened
Will Mercenaries Help Uncle Sam Beat a Draft?
© Copyright 2004, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.
April 6, 2004 1800 PDT (FTW) --
We are all bound in many ways to our pasts, even when
we have transformed ourselves.
Mike Ruppert was a cop, so as a professional muckraker
he sees corruption and criminal conspiracy first. Given
the nature of the muck he's raking, the US economic and
political elite, he's going to get that part right at least
90 percent of the time.
As a long standing member of the US armed
forces, subject for more than two decades to the whims
of commissioned officers1, I will
have a tendency to see grotesque careerism, arbitrary mismanagement,
poor judgment, and self-important macho stupidity. I will
be right at least 90 percent of the time.
Some people don't transform themselves,
they just stay on trajectory, get older, then become
ridiculous… or in
some cases, dead. Like Special Ops guys who just can't
get over their terminal Rambo-mystique, and end up populating
the newly opened niches of privatized war.
The four lads who were killed, burned,
then paraded through the streets in Falluja, Iraq on
March 31st were like that. Ex-Special Ops who had never
figured out that the whole special ops mystique is adolescent
bullshit, so they went to Iraq as mercenaries with the
North Carolina-based Blackwater USA – one of the dozens
and dozens of new merc outfits being hired by Donald
Rumsfeld's Department of Outsourced War.
Blackwater USA is a guns-for-hire training-and-recruitment
outfit on a 6,000 acre military training compound on the
northern coastal plain of Moyock, North Carolina2,
a stone's throw from the Virginia border. While United
Nations rapporteur Enrique Bernales Ballesteros claims
these privatized militaries do not meet for the legal definition
of “mercenaries,”3 which
might run them afoul of many national and international
laws, it is interesting to note exactly how they
fail to meet this definition.
What differentiates them from the
crazed, ex-military flotsam that rampaged through Congo
in the 1960's is that they are (1) incorporated, (2)
they use legally recognized financial/contract instruments,
and (3), they work for recognized governments. The latter
is a very finely drawn point, because governments frequently
hire these legalized mercenaries at the insistence, and
with the support, of multinational corporations who just
happen – as it turns
out – to be in the same place these outfits are doing their
A perfect example is Occidental Petroleum
in Colombia, an American company with strong ties to former
vice-president Al Gore's family. Occidental has had free
security provided for its pipelines by DynCorp, the leviathan
of outsourced militaries, on a Pentagon contract.
DynCorp is a major component of Plan Colombia (renamed
the Andean Initiative in 2001), a US military aid program
to the murderous Colombian government, purportedly to stem
the flow of drugs. The flows DynCorp has taken more of
an interest in, however, have been the flow of peasants
off the land coveted by rich developers and the flow of
Under the guise of spraying “coca plants,” DynCorp
has engaged in massive spraying of mycoherbicides on
peasants' crops, assisted in this depopulation strategy
by right-wing death squads4. whose
staffs were integrated with the Colombian Armed Forces
in 1991 with assistance from the CIA and the US Department
The point is, this legalistic argument
that these are legitimate armed forces because they have
a corporate imprimatur and a contract with the Pentagon
is… thin. A more accurate
representation is that military operations in the United
States have largely been done within a government agency,
principally immunized from the profit motive, and subject
to Congressional oversight and the Freedom of Information
Act. More and more, this has been transferred to private,
for-profit corporations, even though they are still being
financed by people paying taxes in the United States – a
kind of deal.
This has actually been going on for some time in the military,
the difference being that now this outsourcing has become
much more prominent in work that carries with it a high
probability of armed combat.
When I first joined the Army, mess
halls were manned by soldiers – cooks and KP's; administrative
offices were run exclusively by ornery Specialist-4s;
construction was done by uniformed engineers (except
for foreign military bases, where Kellogg, Brown & Root
already had exclusive contracts); etc. In 1973, with
the introduction of the all-volunteer force, the military
began hiring civilian KPs, civilian clerks, and civilian
contractors. These contracting cash-cows were liberally
distributed throughout various Congressional districts,
along with weapons and equipment contracts, to secure
them into pork-barrel perpetuity. Now even the mess halls
are endangered with the proliferation of Burger Kings,
Pizza Huts, and all the other sodium-and-cholesterol
mills that ingenuous young soldiers prefer over the comparatively
nutritious fare in their own dining facilities.
But pork is only part of the picture.
David Shearer, in his 1998 article “Outsourcing War,” said:
Since the demand for military force is unlikely to
end anytime soon, military companies, in their various
guises, appear here to stay. Should there be some attempt
to regulate them, or is it the right of sovereign states
- as with the purchase of weaponry - to employ who[m]
they wish as long as they ensure that their employees
behave within acceptable bounds? There is widespread
discomfort with a laissez-faire approach, most of it
caused by military companies' lack of accountability.
His suggestion: Regulate this market. This sounds
feasible for the moment unless we consider that it is precisely
this lack of accountability that constitutes one of the
main selling points for privatized militaries.
The reason the United States Constitution
obliges a civilian to be at the helm of the War Department
(I know, it's “Defense”)
is that until the establishment of the post-WWII national
security state, there was a powerful cultural mistrust
of standing militaries that dated back to the experiences
of many Europeans with rampaging militaries (many mercenary)
that kept the Continent awash with blood for centuries.
It was determined that the civil-military relationship
must be one wherein the civil sector controlled the military
sector. In addition to having a non-military person at
the helm of the military, accountable to the executive
branch, Congress has oversight of military policies and
purse-strings to ensure the executive doesn't own the military
and use it for narrow interests.
But by legal legerdemain, and Congressional
opportunism and cowardice, that accountability is broken
when the Pentagon contracts these “ services” out. Congress
can review the GAO reports and cut the funds if it
has any idea what these contracts mean, but barring that,
the power to make war without accountability defaults
to the executive branch. And it's not just Congress
that gets cut out of the accountability picture.
It's the public. The Freedom of
Information Act largely does not apply to private corporations
who can call virtually every activity a confidential
business practice – even
if they are living off the government teat and working
for the military. They don't have to answer the public's
questions about their practices, and they don't have to
tell us how many of their people are killed, caught, or
wounded, or how they became casualties.
For the United States, the
crucial benefit of privatized military services
is lessened scrutiny of its foreign activities, and
a level of disassociation from activities it deems
unpleasant necessities. With the U.S. populace particularly
averse to having nationals fight and die in foreign
quagmires, the idea of outsourcing peacekeeping activities
is especially attractive to the U.S. military establishment.
The State Department and the Department of
Defense both gain because the capture or murder of
contractors carries almost no political fall-out.6
Barry Yeoman, writing for the May 2003 Mother Jones in “Soldiers
of Good Fortune,” related:
When the companies… screw up… their
status as private entities often shields them – and
the government – from
public scrutiny. In 2001, an Alabama-based
firm called Aviation Development Corp.
that provided reconnaissance for the CIA in South
America misidentified an errant plane as possibly
belonging to cocaine traffickers. Based on the company's
information, the Peruvian air force shot down the
aircraft, killing a U.S. missionary and her seven-month-old
daughter. Afterward, when members of Congress tried
to investigate, the State Department and the CIA
refused to provide any information, citing privacy
can't talk about it," administration officials
told Congress, according to a source familiar with
the incident. "It's
a private entity. Call the company."
On March 31, five soldiers were killed
outside Baghdad and four Blackwater USA mercenaries were
killed in Fallujah. The military will have to file
a report on what happened to the soldiers. Blackwater can
say, “No comment.” Even
though the public is footing the bill for these mercs,
we have no legal right to know what they're up to, and
there's not a damn thing we can do about it.
But the cat is out of the bag. The flaming
corpses were seen around the world. Mercenaries are operating
in Iraq, and we are paying for them.
My first reaction to the story was, “anyone
who believes these $4,000-a-month 7.mercs
were guarding food shipments through Fallujah needs to
come to Raleigh where I can sell you my beach house. Fallujah
is the most dangerous city on the planet for Americans
right now. The military has developed a detour to avoid
entering the city for any reason, just as they did in … dare
I say it … Mogadishu. But a jeep-load of high-dollar mercenaries
was helping ship food through Fallujah?”
A source inside Iraq however outlined the actual story
to me via email on Friday. Blackwater is guarding food
shipments, and Paul Bremer, and a lot of other things,
so the accountable military doesn't have to do it. They
were on the bypass route with two vehicles, when they encountered
a sign that indicated a temporary detour, and that detour
led them into an ambush. The only way out of the kill zone
was along another road, which led directly into a second
Two things must be said here. One,
this is a pretty sophisticated tactic, based on good
intelligence, and that says something about the resistance.
Two, the inevitable response – a
generalized roust of Fallujah by an overwhelming American
military force – will play directly into the hands of the
Lest anyone forget, almost one year
ago, at the end of last April, American troops rolled
into Fallujah, took over a functioning school as their
headquarters, arrested the local imams, installed their
own “mayor,” and carved
up the whole city with aggressive, potentially lethal roadblocks.
A demonstration broke out, and the Americans proceeded
to gun down dozens of Fallujans.8. In
this area, with its powerful and extended kinship ties,
there can be little doubt that many of those who cheered
as the American mercenaries were cremated in their vehicles
had seen their own loved ones cut down by American bullets
just last year.
The punitive raid on Fallujah that
is being planned as I write this – if carried out – will
throw gasoline on the embers of that rage and immeasurably
strengthen the resistance not just in Fallujah, but throughout
Then there will be a spike in American
casualties, the upcoming elections will be taken into
account, and US forces will return to a force protection
posture on their expanding and ever more permanent-seeming
bases – that are the purpose
of this military occupation after all.
Permanent bases in the region to control
global energy! Not liberation, not democracy, not terrorism.
In an article for the Guardian on April 4 th,
Jim Krane points out that there is now a phalanx of Republican
Party operatives in the Green Zone in Iraq working the
Press Office to do perception-management damage control
in the run-up to November. This reflects the extreme sensitivity
this administration feels with regard to American casualties.
Mercenaries cannot be
organized to conduct actual full-scale conventional combat
operations. But they can run convoys and other
essential tasks to permit the troops to be held as safely
as possible behind the wire on the massive compounds. Balad
is now a 20-mile base. These massive physical spaces are
plain buffers, bulldozed observation sectors and fields
of fire that create an island of relative security in a
society that is now mobilized against the occupation.
BUT PROFITABLE FUTURE
Mercenary companies cannot replace
military units except for these specific tasks that require
routine exposure or some familiarity with special missions
like personal protective security. Nor can these companies
add significant numbers to prevent… I suppose I should
go ahead and say it, a draft. Senator Lugar was calling
for increased troop numbers on April 3rd with a Congressional
chorus behind him.
These forward bases on the world's
biggest oil patch are part of the plan to stay in this
region for good. A further indicator of this intention
can be found in the characterization of the “War on Terror” as
the War of the 21st Century, which right-wing ideologues
now openly say will last through all 100 years of that
century. Now, with assistance from the vast propaganda
apparatus that is the corporate press, each phase of
this war need merely demonize the next targets and re-define
them as “terrorists.”
The wild card, of course, is the continued acquiescence
of the American public, and the Fallujah ambush of the
American mercenaries is creating all kinds of unwelcome
But the power of public discourse
resides with the power to interpret events—like the repeated reference to the
Blackwater crew as “civilians.” They were not; unless the
most painfully drawn, legalistic hair-splitting is employed
to define them as such. This power to interpret carries
the capacity to conceal, and what are concealed are the
questions people need to be asking.
Like, “Why is the United States
using mercenaries in Iraq ?”
I've already addressed some of the
reasons – escape from
oversight (of every species) being most prominent. Another
obvious reason is plain numbers.
The United States military has dropped the official number
of military in Iraq from 130,000 to 108,000 with the most
recent troop rotation, and 40% of the replacements are
now reservists, older, less capable, more out of shape,
and therefore more vulnerable. Other military commitments,
including the Marine occupation of Port-au-Prince to indemnify
the US-engineered coup d'etat there, are not
The degradation of combat capacity in post-rotation Iraq
is offset somewhat by the construction, via very lucrative
contracts awarded to Dick Cheney's pals at Kellogg, Brown,
and Root, of permanent barracks with big generators and
air conditioning, which I'll return to in a moment.
The recruitment and retention crisis that
is looming in response to the terrible increase in the
military's operational tempo has been stemmed to some degree
by Stop Loss, a program approved by executive order that
allows the military to retain service members beyond their
discharge dates for years. Stop Loss has affected around
70,000 troops so far,9. but
it is a program that generates increased resentment from
GIs against the military. And the draft is an option being
considered, but one that is politically very unpalatable
and strongly opposed by Donald Rumsfeld. Filling these
gaps with hired guns makes a kind of perverse sense.
In thinking about those air conditioned permanent billets
on permanent bases in Iraq, we encounter what seems to
me another powerful determinant behind the use of mercenaries.
That the Fallujah attack was against a reported food escort
tells us something important.
Convoys are indispensable in sustaining
an occupying military force, and they have been identified
by the Iraqi guerrillas as the key vulnerability for US
forces. The US is transferring the most high-risk activities
to these privatized troops to keep most of the actual military,
to the greatest degree possible, behind the wire and more
or less out of harm's way.10.This
force protection imperative is driven by both the utter
loss of battlefield initiative and by the political liability
of the ever-amplified GI body count.
All this further reinforces my
own assessment that the US is… to coin a phrase, in very
deep shit in Iraq. And they are compounding that immersion
with even more blunders, including the outsourcing of
combat. I am opposed to the occupation, period, but even
from the perspective of someone who thinks bloody imperial
conquest is okay, this is going from bad to worse.
One of the common denominators among
these privatized militaries is where they originate:
The United States, Great Britain, South Africa, and
Israel … with a few
from France. These are all nations with recent histories
of highly racialized military occupations that spawned “special” units.
They all have “special operations” cultures that are heavily
contaminated with a kind of blonde-beast ideology. I saw
this first-hand among Rangers, Delta Force, the 22 SAS,
and SEAL Team operators, and I often jokingly disparaged
this attitude as the “Soldier of Fiction” mindset. But
it is no longer fiction. It is a growth industry.
The use of private militaries on Pentagon contracts has
increased ten-fold since the first invasion of Iraq. It
is important to note that these private military companies
(PMCs) are not all combat outfits. In fact, of the three
general types of PMC, combat intervention is the least
common. More common is training in logistics, intelligence,
and maintenance of the hi-tech systems that have surpassed
the capabilities of soldiers.11. But
the mix is changing, and combat is increasing in prominence.
There is no indication that this trend will do anything
Since 11 September 2001 the
private security industry has experienced an unprecedented
boom. President George Bush's “war on terrorism”, which
has considerably expanded the global commitments of
US military forces, has so far resulted in a bonanza
for many private military companies, particularly those
specializing in logistic support and high-tech systems
maintenance and operation. Their stocks skyrocketed
throughout the years 2002 and 2003 (Schwartz, 2003)
At present, there is no indication as to this trend
being reversed. On the contrary, only recently both
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as well as
the Secretary of the Army, Thomas White, have firmly
reiterated their conviction and willingness to further
privatize military capabilities. (Dobbs, 2003; Kurlantzick,
2003) As Mathiason (2003) has put it in the Observer,
we may be seeing “the most
fundamental shake-up of the military for more than 100
This year alone, the Pentagon will spend more than $25
billion on PMCs.
On the combat end, Blackwater USA is mostly
ex-SEALs with a few former SWAT cops thrown in, run
by a blustering hyper-macho ex-SEAL named Gary Jackson.
One of the victims of the Fallujah ambush – a WWF-looking
body-builder-type – had
boasted to a reporter staying in his hotel in Baghdad that
he preferred hand-to-hand combat so he could see his quarry
eye to eye. When I was running a Special Forces A-Detachment,
this kind of talk would have sent me seeking a way to reassign
you out of my team.
But it's part of that whole right-wing culture of militarism,
one that is pimped aggressively by the entertainment media
to our young, who have no notion of its fascistic origins.
Executive Outcomes, based in South Africa,
and broken into smaller groups two years ago to further
conceal its activities, is run by veterans of the Apartheid
regime's dirty wars. The oddly named LIAT Finance and
Construction, of Israel, specialized in raiding Sierra
Leone for its diamonds, and Israeli mercenaries in Latin
America are known to contract with governments and drug
cartels by turns. Sandline of UK, mostly peopled by ex-SAS,
was also involved in Sierra Leone.13. Blackwater
has actually hired former members of the military of Augusto
Pinochet, the reactionary dictator of Chile installed during
a 1973 CIA-supported coup d'etat.14
The list of these PMCs is long and growing, and they are
being filled with these macho military narcissists.
One of the tactical rationales for the use of these privatized
combat units is that they are both more flexible and agile
in responding to a world where asymmetric warfare is becoming
the norm. The latter assessment is actually true to a high
degree (even if the use of mercenaries to deal with this
fact is ill-considered). With the overwhelming US technological
superiority and its conventional military juggernaut, the
option to confront the US militarily in a conventional
manner has been effectively taken off the table worldwide.
“Terrorism” is just one of the tactics for
asymmetric warfare that end-runs conventional military
doctrine – the
implications of which seem to have completely escaped the
Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld in particular. They
actually seem to believe that they can “fight terrorism” – which
they see in very linear, mechanistic terms – without engaging
the political dimension of conflict that should be determinative
of mere tactics.
The introduction of privatized militaries
does not apply “precision
force” to the specific problem, it exacerbates it. It is
the asymmetry of the bureaucratically named “battle-space” that
adds a much higher degree of complexity and unpredictability
(“chaos”) to warfare. Warfare has numerous spatiotemporal
dimensions, a politico-economic dimension, a cultural dimension,
and a symbolic dimension, with each and all of these dimensions
recursively influencing the other. The addition of new
battlefield variables – with the introduction of additional
and differentiated combat units with separate lines of
accountability – increases this “chaos” by orders of magnitude.
I talk about this battlefield “entropy” in some detail
in Chapter Five of my book, Full Spectrum Disorder – The
Military in the New American Century (Soft
Skull Press, 2004). In fact, that chapter (called “ Somalia:
The Meanings of Bakara”) predicted that another Mogadishu
would happen in Southwest Asia, and Fallujah on March
31 was a frighteningly accurate fulfillment of precisely
These corporate Rambos – who do have a lot of latent “Mad
Mike ” Hoares among them, even with their corporate “legitimacy” – make
this situation a lot worse, because they are loose cannons
who will further alienate the population, and whose activities
are not well-coordinated with or controlled by the
actual military. Iraqis, as we saw in Fallujah, are not
prepared to differentiate between them.
Rumsfeld and his fellow ideologues
are further blinded to their own folly by their belief
in their own “free market” bullshit.
Even though these are all sweetheart government contracts,
hardly emblematic of the laissez-faire of capitalist
mythology, let through a non-competitive bidding process,
and based on insider access,15 Rumsfeld
and the rest of the Bush gallery actually seem to believe
their own mantra that the “private sector” can always do
everything better than the public sector.
The fact that there is no evidence in any sphere to prove
this doesn't deter them in their belief, nor does the fact
that these merc outfits are bidding right up to the government's
costs, then slapping on overruns which are being financed
by both American taxes and by expropriation of Iraqi export
There is a fundamental failure to
grasp the pig-iron fact, even from the point of view
of capitalists, that military action is not – except tangentially – a
process of marketplace accumulation, and that the rules
that govern the market do not govern combat. The attempt
to impose the principles of the market on warfare will
result not in efficient warfare, but in grinding and
deadly defeat. It's a transfusion with the wrong blood
Secretary McNamara, are you there?
There are institutional contradictions
involved here as well. These private contractors in Iraq
are paying very well,
and the high pay is encouraging experienced troops to leave
the military, a kind of Special Operations brain drain,
even as Rumsfeld wants to expand Special Operations in
the military. Abandonment of the service, in turn, adds
to the losses that these mercenaries are being hired to
fill. As this process gathers momentum, it weakens the
US military's overall capacity (as well as its operational
disposition), undercutting the very military-first policy
of the Bush Doctrine.
The irony here is that military
downsizing – which Rumsfeld
fully supports – contributed significantly to the proliferation
of mercenary-corporations. In the wake of the Cold War,
not only was a wave of soldiers separated from service
to the state, the international arms market was flooded
with Soviet-model small arms, that were snapped up cheap
by these armed entrepreneurs.17
There's more to this story by leaps and bounds, more implications
for the failed lunacy of the Bush junta, and more implications
for a whole world trapped in the logic of an increasingly
Iraq. Politically, the administration can't leave; militarily,
they can't win. Now they're trying to privatize their way
As I said at the beginning, my own
past leads me to see… grotesque
careerism, arbitrary mismanagement, poor judgment, and
self-important macho stupidity.
I see it every where, and nowhere more boldly outlined
than among Rumsfeld and his mercenaries.
don't mean to imply that all military officers are bureaucratic
pinheads. There are exceptions, but they become more
exceptional the further you climb the career ladder.
While doctrine calls for initiative, integrity, and moral
courage, the Officer Personnel Management System is a
bureaucratic model designed to stifle these characteristics
and impose institutional conformity. This became the
norm under that celebrated Secretary of Defense who (like
Donald Rumsfeld today) ran the military into the dirt
by entangling it in an un-winnable war and trying to
run the military like a corporation – Robert MacNamara.
War,” Foreign Policy, Fall 1998.
in Colombia – Outsourcing the Drug War,” totse.com,
May 23, 2001.
Jordan, “ Colombia
is the Third Largest Recipient of US aid,” ZMAG,
Daniel & Madsen,
Wayne, “Corporate Soldiers: The US Government Privatizes
Force,” totse.com, 1999.
Bill, “Mercenaries ‘R'
Us,” Alternet, March 24, 2004.
8. Goff, Stan, Full
Spectrum Disorder – The Military in the New American
Century, pp. 106-107, Soft Skull Press, 2004.
Creep,” Lew Rockwell dot com, January 9, 2004.
Bush Folly – Between Iraq and a Hard Place,” Counterpunch,
September 4, 2003.
Boemcken, Marc, “The
Business of War,” Peace & Conflict Monitor,
December 15, 2003.
13. Bauer, Jan, Report
on United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Fifty-third
Session, 10 March to 18 April, 1997.
14. Berkowitz, op cit.
War,” The Nation, July 28, 1997.
A. K., “The
Great Iraq Heist,” Z Magazine, January, 2004.
Military Training,” Foreign Policy in Focus,
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