May 20, 2024

The Mercenary Problem

In reference to American para-military contractors in Iraq, Paul Krugman at the NY Times writes:  "mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as ‘useless and dangerous’ more than four centuries ago", saying that mercenaries are back in vogue once more.  More:

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.

A family acquaintance who has been to Iraq in such a role foreshadowed the recent Blackwater fiasco months ago and, judging from previous comments, would not find much to dispute with Krugman’s take:

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 [Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution] 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 civilians.

Krugman goes on to question the relationship between military contractors, political capital, and, of course, money – all interesting points.

But the real issue is the absence of accountability and the lack of control the real U.S. military has over their hired guns. 

That these independent soldiers are under-prepared and under-armed is demonstrated by Peter Singer’s new report that says, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

It’s hard to argue with Machiavelli.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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