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Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Sunday, November 25, 2007

"JOHN DONOGHUE considers private armies and the public good, past and present, and sees America losing its way." And we see the same potential.

Forum: Mercenaries R Us

In the summer of 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned a blistering attack against King George III, condemning him for deploying Hessian mercenaries to "complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny" begun the year before by the British army on Lexington Green.

    ...Fighting against Hessian soldiers of fortune, colonial patriots envisioned a state free from this tyranny and corruption. Private armies would have no place in the free Republic.

    Recent events involving Blackwater USA have brought the issue of private armies back to the forefront of American politics and have raised important questions about their current place within the American military. Are these forces "private contractors" as the Bush administration insists, or even "patriots" and "heroes" in the war on terror?

    Conversely, are they "mercenaries," soldiers of fortune who fight for pay first and principles second, if at all? And as one Republican recently claimed in Congress, is Blackwater on "our team" in a war that the administration has defined as a cosmic battle of good vs. evil?

    While they do employ retired U.S. soldiers, it is clear that Blackwater and other corporate purveyors of military labor are not on "our team." They are on the side of profits, which they have made in abundance in no-bid and competitive contracts during the Iraqi war.

    Furthermore, rejecting the term "mercenary" to avoid politicizing the Blackwater scandal assumes that choosing the administration's terminology lacks a politics of its own. By following the Bush team's lead here, we become unwitting allies in their war against the American military, a war where administration policy-makers wield language like a lethal weapon against evidence and clear thinking.

    Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared war against the Pentagon in September 2001, the day before it was attacked by al-Qaida. In this speech, Mr. Rumsfeld vowed not to destroy the Department of Defense, but to recreate it in the image of corporate America. But as few fully understood, Mr. Rumsfeld aimed at more than infusing private sector savvy into an "outmoded bureaucracy." Mr. Rumsfeld's ultimate goal, shared by others within elite neoconservative circles, lay in making corporate America an official part of the military establishment.

    Mr. Rumsfeld achieved this goal. Now incorporated within the military's "total force," private contractors provide a wide range of combat and non-combat services for the United States government. With this victory, deregulating traditional military restrictions to allow these private contractors more operational flexibility, so the neocons thought, would enable the state to better meet the new challenges of a post-Cold War world.

    In truth, private sector "flexibility" in the military has failed to meet the nation's biggest post-Cold War challenge, the Iraqi insurgency. As many of our generals in Iraq have repeatedly stated, the war can only be won politically, with force of arms as one important means to this end.

    ...Customarily undeterred by evidence, President Bush seeks to expand the amount of privatized troops within the military's total force. Why? Perhaps because using "private contractors" keeps boots on the ground during a war when the military continually falls short of recruiting goals.

    Although it's losing the war, the administration realizes that "support the troops" sloganeering can still mobilize the conservative base for the 2008 elections, as long as it can avoid calling a draft....

    Like despots of old, President Bush and neoconservative policymakers understand that an increasingly privatized army allows them to pursue unpopular ventures overseas while avoiding political fallout at home.

    ...What the administration can reap by advancing its own ideological agenda, the American people lose in the way of a military designed to serve the public good.

We must remember George W (the merely disturbed) and George III (the mad) may yet share a destiny beyond beyond mercenaries and problems in the head. George W could lose America, just as George III did. Far fetched? Hopefully! Under present policies, where will America be 13 years (2021)--the time from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution? Will:

  • the dollar shrink to a dime in value?
  • Al Qa'ida go nuclear?
  • rule-by-fear escalate beyond all reason?
  • the Unitary Presidency abolish freedom?
  • all social nets become a thing of the past?

Small chance. But a small chance is not zero chance. All it might take is two more "WAR PRESIDENTS" and a NEOCON Supreme Court to negate Congress and the Constitution. Or conceivably, the Democrats might do it if charisma and charm combine in a sociopathic candidate, the end result could be every bit as bad. The world is becoming divided into them and us--where us means the USA and it increasingly tenuous allies. Sociopathology in the head person is America's gravest danger, not war, not Islam, not the environment, not pestilence, not the Religious Right, not Florida recounts. Extremism is our modern crisis.

Enough of that. On the up side, the American polity is showing signs of awakening to the dangers of tunnel vision and one-track minds. The long-term trends favor freedom, democracy and market economies. We believe those trends will continue even if America loses its way.


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