Contracting out foreign military training

I am firmly opposed to contracting anything related to foreign military training on the basic belief that outsourcing prevents development of lasting military-to-military relations and inhibits military cultural exchange and personal relations.  Democratic ideals, whether from Americans, French, Germans, or British, rely upon an underlying premise that the military is subservient to the elected government.  Also, placing our own soldiers next to foreign militaries demonstrates a commitment that outsourcing does not. 

On this topic, read Peter W. Singer’s recent article on this: Lessons Not Learned: Contracting Out Iraqi Army Advising

One of the key questions surrounding the government’s escalating uses of military contractors is actually not whether they save the government client money or not (this, however, is getting harder to argue with the more than $10 billion that the Defense Contract Audit Agency believes was either wasted or misspent on contracting in Iraq. Rather the crucial question that should asked at the onset of any potential outsourcing is simple: Should the task be done by a private company in the first place?

This issue of what is an “inherently governmental” job or not is at the center of a raft of recent legislative approaches on the private military issue: the mark up by the Senate Armed Services Committee to prohibit armed contractors from “performing inherently governmental functions in an area of combat operations,” Representative David Price and Jan Schakowsky’s announcement this week of a bill seeking to prohibit intelligence agencies, including the CIA, from hiring private contractors for military detainee operations, like the infamous CACI interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama’s bill that would require the Pentagon and State Department to develop a strategy for ensuring that its contracts do not “have private companies and their employees performing inherently governmental functions, emergency essential activities, or mission critical activities.”

While I’m not convinced Price or Obama’s bills are the answer (mostly for lack of information), the real issue is not what is “inherently governmental”, but what is appropriate for the mission.  This includes factors such as skill retention (paying somebody else to do your job means you forget how to do your job), longevity (it may be cheaper in the long run and with all factors considered to keep the job in-house), effects (how do the perceptions of policy makers and local host populations of contractors shape results), and other hard to measure elements (institutional memory, military-to-military relations).  Each of which Singer mentions. 

It is completely understandable why a hard-pressed force would contemplate contracting out advising the Iraq military. From a bureaucratic standpoint, it’s the easy way out. Despite repeated calls by such top military thinkers as Colonel John Nagl, the U.S. Army still does not have an official advising capacity. Advising has never been something “Big Army” has been all that interested in doing (it has traditionally been viewed as a career drag) and moving officers and NCOs into these roles would mean moving them out of other units. By contrast, all the muss and fuss can instead be handed off to a company to handle.

But just because a company can do the job, doesn’t always mean it should. Advising the Iraqi Army has been determined by our national leadership as a task that is essential to our successful war effort. We should treat it that way in how the job is executed.


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