The Cost of Keeping the Principal off the X (Updated)

Does anybody else found it disturbing that the Department that contains the US Public Diplomacy apparatus, is ostensibly in charge of "winning heats and minds" (used here because they use this phrase), and works with foreign media could be so blind as to ignore the impact of their travel? While they were too busy looking after the forest, they didn’t realize they were poisoning the land on which the trees grow.

Their aggressive posture, fueled in part by IEDs, was more than condoned but encouraged. Blackwater did their job: they kept their principals of the X and nobody they were charged with protecting died.

A few brief comments:

  • In an Los Angeles Times editorial, Max Boot hypes the utility of contractors while ignoring the political and economic trade-offs as he notes more warfighters are freed to do other things. There is a decision that must be made here: upsize the force or spend more money on "short-term" solutions that are used for the long-haul? There are political costs to using contractors that include public diplomacy, changing foreign policy options, and distance from the citizenry from conflict, all of which must be factored in. Economic costs are similar.
  • Malcolm Nance’s suggestion of a Force Protection Command is useful and one of the best analyses of the subject I’ve seen.
  • However, as P.W. Singer notes in his comment to Nance’s post at SWJ, Nance’s recommendations also skipped over the foundational reasons contractors are engaged.
  • Ralph Peters plays the same emotional card that contractors are independent cowboys while feebly addressing the core issues.
  • Tom Barnett, commenting on Ralph Peters’ emotional and fact-challenged diatribe, unfortunately drinks the Peters Punch and Jeremy Scahill’s Kool-Aid that outsourcing itself is wrong and that the principal’s agents are uncontrollable. The world Peters describes is not accurate at heart but has become functionally accurate the more we learn about how State, not DOD, has used and supported contractors. The existence of contractors isn’t the issue, nor is their use by a democracy novel, but novel is the absence of employing the real mechanisms to hold them accountable, we just need to implement and internalize these processes, understanding the core reasons why it’s necessary to do so.

It is this failure to understand the resource being engaged, and the requisite control, that makes the Machiavellian warning more accurate after years of use. It is State that, ironically, demonstrated it cannot, for a change not for bureaucratic reasons, understand the need for appropriate RUF and ROE out of a lack of vision, awareness, and fortitude.

Both the conduct and rules of war has changed and the range of services that private military companies provide and what the US requires of them is significant, prompting the Dean of the Army War College to say, "The US cannot go to war without contractors." Unlike technology stewardship issues that prevent aircraft carriers from putting to sea without civilians (for the last four decades), security contractors are on the front lines, directly and independently engaging foreign publics. These “guns with legs” are point persons in American foreign policy and public diplomacy and are perceived as representatives of the United States. Their role isn’t a given nor is it required, but we seem to have accepted it. We cannot afford to make these assumptions.

One Reply to “The Cost of Keeping the Principal off the X (Updated)”

  1. Boot is making the false assumption so many military-ignorant people make: a soldier is a soldier. There are surprisingly few Military Occupational Specialties that are combat arms. Most soldiers are support personnel During the 60s and 70s the ration was somewhere around 8 to 1. During the late Reagan or early GWH Bush periods a deliberate decision was made to not fill many military positions in the support tail and replace them with contractors. This was in reaction to the alarming increase in military pay and benefits as an all-volunteer Army kicked in. Realistically it’s probably not a money-saver because as you point out Congress has refused to provide oversight.Mr Nance’s idea of creating an overarching command to supervise civilian contractors and armed mercenaries is an idealistic solution. It’s really just what we need: formalize armed civilians as warfighters and create yet another labyrinthine department in a Pentagon that is already grotesquely overgrown. Will these armed mercenaries be organized as separate units or as fill-ins, as KATUSA were during the Korean War? Are these mercenaries and contractors to be subject to UCMJ? How? Will civilian armed mercenaries accept and obey orders that are obviously going to expose them to physical harm without question as uniformed soldiers do? Will each civilian unit have a commissioned officer commanding it in order to facilitate Article 15 and Art. 32 hearings? Will these be organized hierarchically so as to make courts-martial easier? And how about actual battlefield management?
    I have no respect for Peters, either professionally or politically, but he does make the valid point that mercenaries and contractors are actually unherdable cats. It’s a waste of tax dollars that would be better spent supporting the real military effort in our occupation.
    Utilizing armed mercenaries as convoy and perimeter guards may be a workable solution at this moment, but I for one distrust the corporate impetus to maximize profit; I’ve seen the results here in the States as downsizing took its toll of workers.

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