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Paul Krugman: Hired Gun Fetish

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    Hired Gun Fetish Paul Krugman http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/092807B.shtml Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 23, 2008
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      Hired Gun Fetish
      Paul Krugman

      Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush
      administration is to imagine that it's a vast experiment concocted by
      mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation
      systematically ignores everything we've learned over the past few
      centuries about how to make a modern government work.

      Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a
      professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA
      to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming -
      giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share
      of the take - went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers
      are back.

      And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as "useless and
      dangerous" more than four centuries ago.

      As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which
      mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they
      are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings
      Institution points out in a new report, "the private military industry
      has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of
      allied nations combined."

      And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are
      mercenaries. They're heavily armed. They carry out military missions,
      but they're private employees who don't answer to military discipline.
      On the other hand, they don't seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S.
      law, either. And they behave accordingly.

      We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square
      two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were
      attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the
      contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn't get out of
      their way.

      What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed,
      including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of
      events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents
      involving security contractors.

      For example, Mr. Singer reminds us that in 2005 "armed contractors
      from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they
      saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi
      civilians, but also U.S. Marines." The contractors were not charged.
      In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a "trophy
      video" on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and
      employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after
      alleging that a supervisor engaged in "joy-ride shooting" of Iraqi

      Yet even among the contractors, Blackwater has the worst
      reputation. On Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee
      reportedly shot and killed a guard of the Iraqi vice president. (The
      employee was flown out of the country, and has not been charged.) In
      May 2007, Blackwater employees reportedly shot an employee of Iraq's
      Interior Ministry, leading to an armed standoff between the firm and
      Iraqi police.

      Iraqis aren't the only victims of this behavior. Of the nearly
      4,000 American service members who have died in Iraq, scores if not
      hundreds would surely still be alive if it weren't for the hatred such
      incidents engender.

      Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary
      outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq?

      Don't tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now
      gone on for four and a half years - longer than American participation
      in World War II. There has been plenty of time for the Bush
      administration to find a way to do without mercenaries, if it wanted to.

      And the danger out-of-control military contractors pose to
      American forces has been obvious at least since March 2004, when four
      armed Blackwater employees blundered into Fallujah in the middle of a
      delicate military operation, getting themselves killed and
      precipitating a crisis that probably ended any chance of an acceptable
      outcome in Iraq.

      Yet Blackwater is still there. In fact, last year the State
      Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq.

      Mr. Singer argues that reliance on private military contractors
      has let the administration avoid making hard political choices, such
      as admitting that it didn't send enough troops in the first place.
      Contractors, he writes, "offered the potential backstop of additional
      forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital." That's
      undoubtedly part of the story.

      But it's also worth noting that the Bush administration has tried
      to privatize every aspect of the U.S. government it can, using
      taxpayers' money to give lucrative contracts to its friends - people
      like Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, who has strong Republican
      connections. You might think that national security would take
      precedence over the fetish for privatization - but remember, President
      Bush tried to keep airport security in private hands, even after 9/11.

      So the privatization of war - no matter how badly it works - is
      just part of the pattern.



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