Saturday, July 24, 2010

Frau General HRClinton?

There is no precedent for this in US history.

Can diplomats field their own army? The State Department is laying plans to do precisely that in Iraq, in an unprecedented experiment that U.S. officials and some nervous lawmakers say could be risky.

In little more than a year, State Department contractors in Iraq could be driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft, operating surveillance systems, even retrieving casualties if there are violent incidents and disposing of unexploded ordnance.

...The Obama administration has promised Iraqis that the United States won't abandon their country when American troops leave. If it can't keep that promise, U.S. influence in the unstable region could dissipate, despite a seven-year war that's cost more than $700 billion and the lives of at least 4,400 U.S. troops.

Already, however, the State Department's requests to the Pentagon for Black Hawk helicopters; 50 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles; fuel trucks; high-tech surveillance systems; and other military gear has encountered flak on Capitol Hill.


HT: Cavey


Beer, Bicycles and the VRWC said...

Or for domestic use?

Jim said...


Anonymous said...

There are already more contractors in theater than uniform military. It was only a matter of time before they took over every aspect of the operation.

Thanks for getting it started GW.

Grim said...

State has had armored convoys, etc., for some time. They view it as important in order to maintain 'civilian control of the military.' That is, they wanted to be able to move about without depending on DOD resources, so as to maintain their independence: this prevents (so the argument goes) the military from taking them only to parts of the war that were going well, etc.

What is being considered here is an armed civilian force being fielded by the US government to enforce its political policy on the world outside America's borders. That actually proves to be perfectly constitutional: the Congress has the right to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal, after all. The Founders might even have preferred it to a standing army, if you had asked them.

Dad29 said...

Constitutional, yes.

to enforce its political policy on the world outside America's borders

No like-ee.

Are 'marque and reprisal' terms which foresee "enforcement of political policy," or are they more oriented towards safety of US citizens overseas in normal commerce?

Grim said...

"Marque and reprisal" were terms that predate the Constitution, and which authorized privateering in the pursuit of any number of policies. The Spanish and English used them against each other, particularly in the latter case; the Dutch and French used them as well.

Letting me raid another nation's shipping and keep (most of) the profits can be used for "Freedom of the seas," and in point of fact that is mostly how we used it. (The Confederate states aside; though I suppose later in the war you could say it was about protesting the blockade, most Confederate privateering was earlier in the war while the USN was a joke). That's not exactly why the tradition existed, however; it mostly existed as a way to give private capital a good reason to fight on your side in the war.

Dad29 said...

it mostly existed as a way to give private capital a good reason to fight on your side in the war.

Well, we've outgrown that.

The description you give looks a LOT like licensing of outright theft. Which begs the question: by whose authority does the US Government license theft?

The 16th Amendment doesn't apply outside the 200-mile limit, does it?

Grim said...

By the same authority as every other government, I suppose. It was not a practice we invented.

The Paris Declaration of 1856 put aside privateering between states that were parties to the declaration. However, it explicitly states that it applies only between members to the declaration. The U.S. is not one.

Here's another context: The Geneva Conventions' POW protections were meant to apply to only the uniformed soldiers of member states. We are now told that we may not treat the un-uniformed terrorists captured on the battlefield except as protected POWs, if we are to avoid being held liable to war crimes in the eyes of the 'international community.' Yet we are party to no such treaty; nor could any such treaty be ratified even by this Senate.

We haven't issued letters of marque often since 1856, but it has happened. For example, it was used as a way to encourage the building of airships to watch the coastlines against U-boats in WWII. If your ship helped capture one, you got part of the goods.

Theft? I suppose you could call it that. But what were the U-boats up to?

Or to put it in another context still: say we licensed computer companies to use their expertise to trace and locate terrorist groups' finances. In return, they got to keep a portion of the money they helped us freeze. Theft? Or smart warfighting?

Dad29 said...


I suppose we should then move to a discussion of the REAL issue here.

Should any private company execute mil/intel ops on behalf of the US Government?

I'd vote no.

To make clear: it's possible that a private company will have "incidental" intel which might be used by the USGov't.

But that's not the same as contracting it out wholesale.

And, of course, there's always the possibility of a "total war" scenario which would change my vote.

But Iraq doesn't fit that mold.

Grim said...

Now, I should preface this by saying that I've been doing exactly what you're against for years. As a civilian advisor, I've been hip-deep in wars and intelligence operations since not long after 9/11.

That said, I think I can make an honest case. If you're asking a practical question, "should we?" then I suppose you must be aware that in fact it is commonly the case that both the military and intelligence communities rely on private companies. In Iraq we were 1:1 military/civilian; in Afghanistan, the private actors operate in excess of the government employees.

Now, the government services have the lead, and make the calls. Still, force size is set by Congress; so the military can't just go and recruit, say, twice as many guys as it had before. Even if it did, it has to train them and pay them standard rates (starting with private, or second lieutenant, excepting certain programs like the JAG and chaplain corps). If it needs already-trained operators now, it has to go to the private market.

If you're talking not practically, but in a normative sense -- what 'should be the case' in a better world -- I'm not sure I agree. The fact is that accountability is much higher with private workers than government workers. If a private company gets caught out doing something it shouldn't, it loses its contract -- even if the military or CIA were the ones who asked it to do that thing.

If the CIA/NSA/DOD gets caught doing something it shouldn't... well... not much comes of it. Right? It's very hard to hold a government bureaucracy accountable. You can fire a private actor easily; it's hard to fire an agency.

Grim said...

And that's not to speak to the other major issue, which is pension/retirement issues. As a private advisor, when I'm done with a job, you're done paying me. That's not the case with your CIA operations officer, or the State Department FS-01.