If your a neocolonial nation who’s public is not into taking over the globe ,and won’t support a call to arms, what do you do? Those unwashed masses don’t understand the nuances of global power. Isolationism is obviously not an option, we have a duty to lead after all. Where to get the troops to run a proper interventionist foreign policy without unduly ruffling the feathers of the low-information masses? Besides those citizens in the citizen army are very expensive on top of being high maintenance. How to fight a war on the cheep and keep the natives uninvolved? The answer, as George W Bush found out, was clear; hire people to do the dirty work.
While the US had used mercenaries before, almost since the founding of the republic, the Iraq misadventure put this practice in high gear. Cynical politicians understood that the US population did not care too much about casualty figures if deaths and dismemberment happened to third parties. Anti-war activist always stressed the US losses, giving a nod to Iraqi casualties as well. But the big PR pushes alway came when US deaths pushed past a multiple of one thousand. By keeping the active duty numbers small, relative to the needs of the mission, Rumsfeld could keep the casualties small as well. That did lead to an unfortunate lack of boots on the ground though.
With inadequate numbers of boots on the ground, even at the hight of the “Coalition Of The Willing,” and no public stomach for a draft, Bush-Cheney decided to buy their way out of a corner. Companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy were hired out to provide “security.” In the case of Blackwater “security” meant men tearing around Baghdad in APCs shooting at anything that moved. The PR backlash from Blackwater’s antics in Iraq did significant damage to the United States image abroad. The backlash back in the US was so ferocious that Blackwater was forced to seek anonymity in a new corporate name, Xe.
Despite the black eye, the US did not fire Blackwater from the job-site and hire a more competent operator. The State Department had no plan “B” to replace the contractors. Its own security service had been eviscerated, by design, by Bush-Cheney. Bush-Cheney was ideologically bound to the idea of privatizing the Iraq war. It was part-and-parcel of Bush-Cheney’s notion of war on the cheep.
To the dynamic duo there was also political benefit to using contractors. It hid the real number of combat effectives in Iraq, and it hid the casualties. Using contractors also allowed the Administration to better ignore the casualties that occurred. When the shop of horrors that was Walter Reed cropped up, the Administration was force to do something to clean that blot away. But with mercenaries, the Administration could treat those people even more shabbily than they did the grunts at Walter Reed. The supply contractors got the worst of it. Convoy drivers who survived the slaughter of guerrilla attacks in the desert of Iraq, where given a ticket home and nothing else. They were dumped back in their homes with twisted and broken bodies and even more twisted and broken minds.
The utter contempt shown for the mercenaries by their employees cannot be good for moral ; but then, the whole matter of moral is an Achilles Heal of mercenary armies. Mercenaries are in the fight for the money. Their loyalties will always be suspect. Ancient Rome found out about the divided loyalties of mercenaries the hard way, and eventually died from an excess of foreign adventurers.
This questionable loyalties of mercenaries is not the worst of it though. What is more dangerous is how these guns for hire allow beltway elites to ignore the will of the people. In a functioning democracy, public sentiment, public support is a check on the adventurism of the political elites. We don’t have that function anymore, what we have is dysfunction. The political, intellectual, and economic elites are able to go off on hair-brained, hair triggered romps in foreign lands, with little to no domestic consequences, because they no longer have to explain themselves to the hoi polloi. The all volunteer military reduced the number of people involved in trigger pulling to a very narrow segment of the populace. Military members and their families do not even break one percent of the general public. Mercenaries reduce the number of US citizens impacted by our wars of choice even more. The savagery of war is reduced to a line item in the budget. It becomes nothing more that yet another profit center for Corporate Interests.
In the long run this is toxic to democracy. The modern Nation State, born in the forge of the French Revolution, absolutely depends on an engaged populace to man its armed forces. Conscript armies are part-and-parcel of legitimate Nation States. A quick and easy way to measure the health of any Nation is to look at its armed forces. Weak Nation-States have unreliable militaries; ill trained, ill-disciplined, ill equipped, and ill mannered. Failed states have no militaries at all; just roving gangs of war-lord lead killers.
It is hard to understate the connection between a democratic Nation-State and its conscript or volunteer military. The more the disconnect, the more is the underlying rot of that democracy. If the rot spreads too far, the republic ends, just as the Roman Republic did in the time of Julius Caesar.
Our nations over-reliance on mercenaries to carry out our foreign policy goals is very worrisome. It reflects a contempt for the wisdom and wishes of the people. It relies on an unsupported and unsupportable arrogance that the elites are much better than the common herd. It relies on the notion that if those foolish, low-to-no information Joe and Jane six-packs only knew what the elites knew, they would get with the program.
The problem with this mindset is that what the elites know is quite often utter rubbish. They spend so much time obfuscating their reasoning, goals, and methods, they have lost the thread themselves. Plus by letting so few into the decision making process, group think takes over in disastrous ways. Every military cock-up that happened post WWII is a point of illustration of this phenomena of group think. These cock-ups had a common thread: an elite (The Best And The Brightest) agreement on a very suspect, and unquestioned premise that could not be explained in a simple paragraph, or explained at all. Once the initial premise broke down, it became a case of doubling down on the bad idea lest the wattage of the brightest become the subject of debate. Mercenary armies will only multiply this process. More mercenaries will lead to more foreign policy cock-ups with the resultant blow-back down the line.
That blow back will be very painful. It is not like the foreign citizens of the nations we have intervened are going to make a distinction between the hired guns of the US government and the people of the USA. All they will know is that the Americans came in and tore things up right and proper, so now it’s time for some pay back. Instead of our interventions making things safer for the US, they will make it much more dangerous.
If there is one ray of hope in all of this it has to be the Occupy Wall Street movement. While still in its formative stages, if it can cleave to its core issue of democracy, and democratization of our politics and our economy, it could counterbalance the present move to fudalization. The demand that the 99% have a voice in the decision making is long overdue, especially in the area of foreign affairs. If you haven’t noticed, the 1% are making an utter hash our real National Security interests.
Nothing is as core to a well functioning democracy than full participation and discussion on matters of war and peace. Our democracy, the representative republic set up by the founders, is in serious trouble. Matters of war and peace have been further and further removed from the view of the general public. The final move, the outsourcing of our military to private, for profit, companies is worst kind of corruption and degradation of what the nation is supposed to be. The mercenaries need to go, straight to the unemployment line, every last stinking one of them.