Los Angeles Times
The Iraq War's Outsourcing Snafu
The coalition of the billing has real limits.
by Max Boot
March 31, 2005

Ever since Ronald Reagan proclaimed in his 1981 inaugural address that
"government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,"
leaders at all levels of government, Democrats and Republicans alike, have
been outsourcing as much work as possible to the private sector. This is
generally a good idea, but when it comes to the military, this trend may
have gone too far.

Peter W. Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of
"Corporate Warriors," estimates that there are 20,000 to 30,000 civilians in
Iraq performing traditional military functions, from maintaining weapons
systems to guarding supply convoys. If you add foreigners involved in
reconstruction and oil work, the total soars to 50,000 to 75,000. To put
this into perspective: All of Washington's allies combined account for
23,000 troops in Iraq. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Singer quips
that "President George W. Bush's 'coalition of the willing' might thus be
more aptly described as the 'coalition of the billing.' "

Let us stipulate that most contractors are upstanding, hardworking
individuals who perform valuable and dangerous work. At least 175 have been
killed and 900 wounded in Iraq. But their labor has been tarnished by
scandals and snafus too numerous to ignore.

Oil-services giant Halliburton and the security firm Custer Battles, among
others, have been accused of swindling U.S. taxpayers. Other contractors are
said to have been simply ineffective. Vinnell Corp. did such a poor job of
training Iraqi army recruits that half of its first battalion walked off the
job. The Army had to step in to perform the work itself.

Other companies have been accused of human rights violations: Interrogators
from CACI International were in the middle of the Abu Ghraib mess. And still
others have caused major problems by failing to coordinate with the military
chain of command. The most notorious example was the decision by four
Blackwater employees to enter Fallouja on March 31, 2004, without notifying
the local Marine garrison. Their well-publicized deaths in an ambush forced
the Marines into a costly offensive to try to regain control of the city.

There is nothing new or nefarious about privatizing military support
functions. But, in Iraq, the contractors aren't just building latrines or
staffing mess halls. They're also running around with assault rifles and
black body armor performing "tactical" functions. Many are well-trained U.S.
or British veterans, but others are Rambo wannabes or sordid desperados.
Among the mercenaries who have surfaced in Iraq are South Africans who were
members of apartheid-era death squads and Chileans who served in Pinochet's
security services.

When U.S. service members are accused of wrongdoing, they are investigated
and, if necessary, court-martialed. That's not the case with civilians who
are generally not covered by the laws of their home countries for crimes
committed abroad. The Iraqi legal system could hold them to account, but in
practice Baghdad won't do anything that might lead to an exodus of foreign
firms. Dozens of U.S. and British soldiers have been prosecuted for
misconduct in Iraq - but not a single contractor.

A lack of accountability leads to occurrences such as those described by
four former Custer Battles employees who claim that poorly trained Kurds on
the firm's payroll killed innocent motorists. In one incident, a guard
supposedly fired his AK-47 into a passenger car to clear a traffic jam. In
another, an aggressive driver in a giant pickup truck allegedly pulverized a
sedan with children inside. When true (the firm denies any wrongdoing), such
incidents only create more insurgent recruits.

U.S. policymakers argue that they have to rely on private help because the
U.S. armed forces simply aren't big enough to do everything, and allies have
not made up the shortfall. But that's an argument for expanding the armed
forces, not for hiring a lot of freelance gunslingers. Administration
officials complain that a bigger army is too expensive, but are they really
saving money by relying on privateers?

The most valued contractors are experienced former U.S. Special Forces
operatives whose training cost the Pentagon hundreds of thousands of
dollars. They are being lured out of uniform by the promise of making $500
to $1,000 a day. (If they stay in the service they'll be lucky to make $140
a day.) And where does that money come from? Pretty much all the foreign
firms in Iraq are paid by the U.S. Treasury. So the government is in
competition with itself for its most skilled and hard-to-replace soldiers.
Does this sort of outsourcing really make sense?

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