One of the most disturbing trends emerging from the Iraq war is America’s growing reliance on the private sector to help get the job done. While there is nothing new about the military’s use of private contractors, the Iraq conflict has taken this privatization of war to an unprecedented level as there are more than 90,000 private contractors working in Iraq.
Many of these workers provide logistical support for the military by building bases, supplying food, water and electricity; however, 35,000 of these contractors go beyond simple logistics and provide actual military support to U.S. interests and companies.
This means that there are 35,000 mercenaries roaming the streets of Iraq, that is three times the amount of British troops. While I understand the benefits from such “Private Security Forces,” their presence has become more of a liability than an asset for the U.S.
Some might disagree with the mercenary label given to these contractors, but when one considers that these men get paid three times the amount our soldiers do, and are not guaranteed prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions, one can’t help but deem them mercenaries.
Labels aside, the most troubling thing about using these hired guns is that virtually no laws currently exist to govern their behavior. Unlike our soldiers in Iraq, these military contractors do not operate under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And because of Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17, they are granted full immunity from Iraq’s laws. According to Peter Singer, author of “Corporate Warriors,” because these mercenaries aren’t held accountable under U.S. or Iraqi law, hardly any of them have been prosecuted for crimes committed on the job.
This lack of regulation allows military contractors to be very aggressive in their operations which ultimately hurts the overall U.S. effort to win the “hearts and minds” in Iraq.
One instance where contractors hurt the counterinsurgency effort was when Blackwater contractors were hired to protect Ambassador Bremer for a year.
Former Col. Thomas Hammes claims that while Blackwater contractors did their job in protecting Bremer, their aggressive tactics were actually counterproductive to the war: “Each time they (Blackwater) went out they had to offend locals, forcing them to the side of the road and at times running vehicles off the road, making enemies each time. Their interests are fundamentally different than ours. You (U.S. Army) may lose an ambassador in an insurgency – that’s a fact; but you have other ambassadors. If Blackwater loses an ambassador they’re out of business.”
Another unforeseen cost of the increased use of military contractors is the impact it has on recruitment levels for high level officers. Private security firms are poaching highly trained Special Forces soldiers by offering them salaries that are up to four times what they can earn in the military.
According to a report from the British-American Security Information Council, “American and British Special Forces personnel are resigning in record numbers and taking highly-paid jobs as private security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
I will admit there are certain benefits in outsourcing roles to private military contractors because in theory they save taxpayers money. According to Steven Schooner, an expert on government contracting, “It might end up being worth it to pay individuals a tremendous amount of money for a short period of time. Consider, for example, the government isn’t going to pay pensions for anyone working as a contractor in Iraq.”
While this may be true, the fact is that we have hired these private contractors since the beginning of the war, three and a half years ago, and each day these men are making three times the amount our soldiers are making – that doesn’t seem very cost-effective.
Ultimately, there’s no question the military has become overly dependent on the private sector to make up for a lack of troop strength in Iraq; and while regulated military contractors can be helpful and cost effective in short-term conflicts, this has certainly not been the case in Iraq. Instead of spending all this money on private mercenaries, whose allegiance is first to their client and second to their country, we should use that money to better our troops’ pay and benefits – after all they are the ones with the right priorities.
Patrick Molnar is a business sophomore and Mustang Daily political columnist.