In a week when President Obama announced the U.S.’s final phase of official military pullout, scheduled for the end of this year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the alarming rise of unofficial military personnel deployment by the government in the course of the last 10 years of supposed war on terror.
Many of the people who have been fighting for us in the shadows—named in sterile, capitalist fashion as “contractors”—are not going to be coming home as part of the draw-down of the American presence. Although not everyone in the vague category of these privately employed contractors wields a gun, those that do are a quite large force working for the Pentagon, CIA, and State Department. And no matter the attempt to switch terms for (one assumes) better public relations, these folks are mercenaries, plain and simple.
Though used relatively extensively throughout the history of warfare, mercenaries have an infamous reputation. Since they owe their loyalty not to a state but to the company or leader who makes their living possible, mercenaries are difficult to hold accountable. In the war we are now waging, however, this is exactly what makes them so appealing to U.S. leaders.
When an agency/agent of the U.S. government acts, it does so knowing that, at least theoretically, there are rules that cannot be broken. These rules—and the potential to face independent investigation—are part and parcel of accountable, democratic governance.
Contractors operate in a gray area. They are not protected under international law in the same way as regular army personnel are, but that also puts them in a better position to ignore international law. And because they are so useful doing some of our dirty work, the government argues in domestic civil suits that they are protected, just like an agent of the state! So they are doubly unaccountable—no external investigations AND they can’t get hit in their pocket books. In Iraq, contractors have exploited their seeming immunity by escaping charges of rape, torture, and murder.
So although we are pulling our regular troops out of Iraq, I would have been happier seeing the mercenaries be the first ones out, rather than the ones left behind when the regular military leaves. We should be scrapping them all together. As our good friend Machiavelli pointed out, “Anyone who relies on mercenary troops to keep himself in power will never be safe or secure, for they are factious, ambitious, ill-disciplined, treacherous.” I think we have seen all of those adjectives from our “contractors” in the last 10 years.