Special Analysis Report:
Let Slip the Mercenaries to Our Shores
The use of mercenaries by the United States is by no means an invention of the Bush Administration. In modern times, the Johnson Administration, as part of its "More Flags" initiative, hired soldiers of fortune from Korea, The Phillipines, and Thailand to supplement U.S. troops in the Vietnam theatre of combat. More recently, the Reagan Administration blurred the line between war by proxy using indigenous personnel and war by mercenary involvement in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s: while many, if not most, of the guerilla fighters were from Afghan tribes, the "base"in Arabic, "al Qa'ida"used by the Pentagon at the time included jihadists from Pakistan and other countries whose involvement, although in part inspired by religious considerations, was certainly funded in its military role by the United States. More importantly, it was during the Reagan years that private contractors, often but not always CIA front companies, became heavily involved in the transport of war materiel and support equipment to rebels in Central America. This was in addition to the far more direct military support, through training provided in Honduras under the direction of John Negroponte, of some of the most brutal attack squads destined for operations in Communist-controlled Nicaragua that the region had ever experienced.
Mercenaries as a vital, if ancillary, component of a total force matrix has a long history, indeed. The importance of such private contractors has varied from war to war, and there is considerable dispute about their criticality in the Pentagon's current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been suggested that one important role they play is not in their limited combat configuration, but rather in the lack of transparency in their operations, and most importantly, in their casualty rates. Recognizing that deaths of military personnel in wars can have political consequences on the home front, transferring at least part of the death rate to private resources that do not have to disclose such information relieves the Pentagon of some of the backlash that would otherwise result from American personnel being killed, particularly as a war becomes less popular domestically and opposition to the war zeroes in on such matters as the number of service men and women dying and being severely wounded.
All of that having been noted, even if it can be reasonably argued that mercenary forces are important in the war resources inventory, their use by the United States federal government on domestic soil is, if not entirely unique, certainly without well-known precedent in the modern era (although private security firms have supplemented local and state law enforcement efforts from time to time). That these soldiers of fortune are, themselves, United States citizens blunts what would otherwise be a loud outcry; but their presence in the Gulf Coast region, in at least some role acting as patrols in the evacuated areas of New Orleans, has raised eyebrows and caused consternation.
Blackwater USA contracts with the United States government to provide security forces that primarily protect personnel and shipments moving across regions where conflict is anticipated or on-going. Generally speaking, its personnel have military backgrounds, and the company is but one of many thousands that offer employment to former employees of the Pentagon, creating what has come to be derisively known as a "revolving door" relationship between the military public sector and private sector companies seeking government contracts. Illustrative of this is the recent resignation of Defense Department Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz under a barrage of accusations that he had actively blocked two investigations of criminal activity by senior Bush Administration officials: Mr. Schmitz has taken a position with the parent company of Blackwater USA, the private defense contractor that has now secured security work in New Orleans.
The complexity of backchannel relationships between the government that needs private goods and services and the companies that offer them has many aspects, some of which will never be fully known or understood by those not directly involved. In the case of mercenaries now patrolling the nearly abandoned streets of New Orleans, this matter is moot in light of the broader issue of the overall militarization of the Gulf Coast region, which has now become a base of military operations, complete even with warships on the Mississippi, for the entire region. Considered in the large scheme of what has become a common, accepted, and vital part of warcraft under the Bush Administration, the deployment of mercenaries on a new battlefront that is within the borders of the United States of America, itself, is not at all shocking: it is war as usual.
The only difference is that, now, war has come home to America.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
This article has been updated as of 8:30 p.m. EDT on September 10, 2005, with new information regarding private security force levels provided by Ron Brynaert.