It's no secret that Rumsfeld has been pushing hard to shift the allegiance of our fighting forces from the promise of a true democracy represented in our Flag, to the bottom line analyses streaming from corporate boardrooms.
1. Secretary of Defense Aims to Privatize the U.S. Military
Rumsfeld has already outsourced much of the logistics and supply functions of the military to private firms, especially to Cheney's old employer Halliburton. There are now 90-odd companies competing to provide private soldiers from places like Fiji and Nepal to work as machine-gun-toting guards in Iraq.
Rumsfeld has considered privatizing U.S. military arsenals, its ammunition plants, and repair depots by spinning them off into federal corporations modeled along the lines of Fannie Mae. The secretary, whom Jesse Helms once called "the Energizer Bunny," also wants to free up some of the military budget as venture capital to entice private industry into running our armed forces.
It's hard to gauge the full effect of Rummy's outsourcing, but one estimate puts gross revenues of renting private armies at $100 billion a year. That compares with the total defense budget of around $400 billion.
Private contractors are appealing for other reasons too. Carrying machine guns in the field, contract soldiers look like a regular army, but they wear no name tags, and when asked questions, they refuse to say anything at all. Dead private army soldiers don't get included in casualty reports. Laws that require government officials to disclose war information to Congress don't pertain to the executives in the boardroom. According to a recent investigative article by the Associated Press, as these companies grow in size, they are getting involved in politics, making campaign contributions and engaging in corporate lobbying.
The U.S. army has declined in size from 2.1 million in 1990 to 1.4 million now. It has been stretched thin by the war in Iraq, but also by conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. More reserves and national guard are being called up for longer periods of time.
All this has brought pressure from Congress to increase the size of the army, but Rumsfeld insists that outsourcing will allow us to fight wars all over the place without boosting the number of soldiers.
There are important reasons why the United States has depended heavily on privatized military firms to undergird the war and occupation efforts in Iraq. Most of them are not pretty - to my mind, some are actually corrupt. Let's look at those reasons.
First, PMFs allow placing many of the costs of the Iraq occupation "off budget". In the US, as in all democracies, funding for government activities are ultimately in the hands of the people, through their elected representatives in legislative bodies.
But the 20,000 international PMF employees in Iraq (equal to over 15 per cent of the official American military presence of 130,000 soldiers) are not listed as military defence. Instead, they are paid out of the money budgeted for Iraqi reconstruction. Recent government estimates are that as much as one quarter of the $18 billion budgeted for reconstruction will be paid to those who perform military operations of one sort or another.
Second, hiring private military firms bails out the questionable defence policies of Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld. Contrary to the advice of his generals, the secretary insisted on downsizing the military.
PMFs, have an additional "benefit" never mentioned by any American government official. If there is brutal military repression to be done, an ex-KGB agent or a man with a lifetime in the anti-apartheid forces in South Africa can work more brutally than an enlisted American soldier. Mr Paul Bremer does not trust his defence to American soldiers. Cadres of mercenaries guard him.
The rise of corporate warfare raises the serious question of loyalties. Our government hires these forces to conduct operations in our name, but when things get too hot, our government abandons them and denies any involvement. And because the funding is hidden in other parts of the budget, there are no receipts to tie down their relationship. Our government has tipped its hand as to how they'll allow themselves to be held accountable in a global environment, as we've seen in the Afghan vigilante case.
3. U.S. Admits Afghanistan Vigilante Ties
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military said Thursday it held an Afghan prisoner for two months after receiving him from three Americans who have been charged with torturing detainees at a private jail.
The admission followed claims by the group's leader that it had ties to the Defense Department - which the Pentagon denies - and was another embarrassment for U.S. officials already coping with their own prisoner abuse scandal.
The American military insists the men acted on their own and has tried to distance itself from them and their leader, Jonathan Idema, a former U.S. soldier who once was convicted of fraud.
However, the use of mercenaries violates the Geneva convention. Actually the use of mercenaries is state-sponsored terrorism.
4. Foot Soldiers of the New World Order: The Rise of the Corporate Military
Mercenaries are outlawed under Article 47 of the Geneva Convention. In December 1994 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 49/1150 urging all nations 'to take the necessary steps and to exercise the utmost vigilance against the menace posed by the activities of mercenaries'. The UN International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries has been signed or ratified by twenty-one countries.
5. My United States of Whatever - excerpts interview with Brookings Fellow PW Singer, author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry.
When I asked Singer, if a presidential debate about PMFs would help sort these things out, he questioned the logic of politicizing the issue.
"This kind of debate is difficult to have in an election year," he said, "particularly when you have companies that are linked to people in government. It has become a real partisan issue. Democrats are slamming Cheney's connections. The Bush administration is lining up very tightly with Halliburton. In the long view, this could be unfortunate because we're talking about something that's far more important than Democrats versus Republicans. We're talking about national security and soldiers' lives and welfare at stake when they interface with PMFs. Halliburton and a number of other companies provide infantry roles that protect key installations, escort convoys, and protect the reconstruction teams in Iraq. They're armed on the ground. That's been a major concern of a lot of our forces there."
Why is that?
"Two things. First, PMF operators are not beholden to our chain of command. They're making their own decisions -- getting involved in their own situations. Second, local Iraqis are sometimes unable to make a distinction between who is an official US soldier and who is a private soldier. The cover of my book has a picture of PMF operators. They're wearing US fatigues; the only thing different is that the insignia is gone."
What's the justification used by the Bush administration for running contrary to code?
"PMFs are a real discomfort in our military right now," Singer said. "But the military feels like it doesn't have a choice. It's deploying in so many countries that without PMFs we would have to reinstate the draft and call up more National Guard and reservists. This adds a political price to our operations and begs the question of whether or not we should have been involved in the operations in the first place.
Combine these facts with the legislation currently sneaking through congress to outsource torture to terrorist states, and you see what kind of future is before us.
I don't think it's in our country's best interest to allow our armed forces to be converted into hired mercenaries, because the loyalties are to the boardroom, not the flag; the forces lack the discipline instilled by the structured military chain of command, and the US loses complete control over the operations being conducted, filled with fighters recruited from the willing from whatever unsavory culture bred them.
Keenly aware that the contract owner will abandon them in questionable operations, as we witnessed in the Afghan vigilante case, rather than risk capture in hostile lands without the benefits and protection of state diplomacy and geneva conventions, the warriors become themselves the very suicide terrorists we are so loathe to comprehend. Who here doubts that these corporate warriors will not hesitate to settle their contract disputes with the blood of innocent Americans?
We have a clear choice now, and an imperative: we can stay the course for decades to come by supporting our government's military adventurism into global conflicts with corporate mercenaries whose primary motive is profit, committing gross violations of international law in our name and on our ever increasing dime, or we can bring our troops home as quickly as possible, eject these profiteering provocateurs from our government and stop kicking hornet's nests around the globe.
Update [2004-10-6 13:53:12 by newsouth]:
For extensive research into our government's shift toward the privatization of warfare, see Center for Public Integrity's 11-part investigative series on the Business of War.