Civil Discourse and Private Military Contractors

Civil Discourse and Private Military Contractors
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In my April 16 post I wrote about some new Iraqi visa regulations that were forcing U.S. employed private contractors doing translation and interpretation work to leave Iraq. As part of the article I requested and received comment from Chris Taylor, CEO of Mission Essential Personnel, a major supplier translators, interpreters and cultural advisors to the U.S. Department of Defense.

In reviewing the comments I see that someone wrote this:

Chris Taylor is a former Blackwater spook. How is he not in jail? Why is he still doing business with the US Government? CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSMAN AND TELL THEM ABOUT THE NEW BABY-BLACKWATER OUT THERE. Demand that they not do any more business with Mission Essential Personnel. Mr. Taylor, you can run, but you can't hide.

Now, I hesitate to include this here because it is blatantly silly but I do so because it nicely illustrates a larger point, namely, that much of the debate about private military and security contractors is insanely inane.

For some reason I have never quite figured out most normally intelligent people suddenly become drooling idiots when the subject turns to PMSC. For some reason people who have never spent a day of their lives in the military and wouldn't recognize an M-16 if they were butt stroked by one suddenly start talking snarkily in a psuedo-knowing, smirking, way about mercenaries or hired killers. This is exceedingly strange considering the person in question when talking about PMC is more likely to be some third country national slinging hash or doing laundry in Iraq's Green Zone than some former Ranger or Green Beret.

Now, it is true that Chris Taylor once worked for Blackwater. To be precise he was vice president for strategic initiatives, which is resume-speak for developing new business. It was in that capacity that I first became acquainted with him. We have been on a first name basis for years. While we frequently disagree on issues related to the PMSC industry, and some of our exchanges on private email lists have been, as the diplomats say, rather frank and spirited, I respect him, as someone who says what he thinks and does what he says.

He also served 13 years in the Marine Corps and earned an MPA in 2008 from the Harvard Kennedy School where he was also Director of the Harvard Defense & Security Initiative and a member of the Harvard Defense Leadership Project.

However, this post is not about Taylor. The point is to say that people need to stop acting like morons and start thinking about what they say and write. Just because a pop culture TV show, like 24, depicts private security contractors as the new bad guy does not make them so.

People need to remember what George Orwell wrote in his justly famous 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language":

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

Sure, there have been screwups among PSCs. Doubtlessly some of them have literally gotten away with murder and should be in jail. One could also say the same about some U.S. soldiers. After all, nobody accuses all U.S. Army soldiers of being rapists and murderers, even though Stephen D. Green executed an Iraqi family so he and other troops could gang-rape and murder a young woman they had been eyeing at a traffic checkpoint.

In truth, whenever I hear someone call a PSC a mercenary I just roll my eyes. It is a sign of mental laziness. For the purpose of precision the most authoritative meaning of a word is the legal one. In that regard the most widely recognized definition of mercenary is the found in Article 47, Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Accords. That six point definition makes it quite obvious that the vast bulk of private military contractors are not mercenaries.

Similarly Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater is not a Christian crusader. He may be rightwing but so what? If you substituted black or Jewish for Christian nobody would go around using the phrase. It is just another sign of how debased the discourse on this area has become that people routinely do it with regard to people like Prince without giving it a second thought.

In fact, as I stated in my book, and in a more recent monograph, most talk about mercenaries only serves to obscure the real issue.

THE DEBATE OVER WHETHER and how to utilize private military and security
contractors generates much heat but not much light. In many case the level of dis-
course resembles children's name calling, i.e., "You're a mercenary." "No I'm
not." Such rhetoric is silly and distracting and prevents people from facing underlying realities which are rarely dealt with publicly.

The truth is that the United States is by far the world's largest consumer of such services. While contractors have worked with the government since the country's founding their role has grown as Washington has reduced the size of the U.S. military in the post-Cold War era, and as those forces have become strained by the demands of U.S. grand strategy.

This did not happen by accident. Decades ago the government made a deliberate decision to both privatize and outsource military functions and activities that had traditionally been done in the public sector.

One can argue for and against such contractors but what nobody wants to discuss is that the U.S. government's huge and growing reliance on private contractors constitutes an attempt to circumvent or evade public skepticism about the United States' self-appointed role as global policeman. The U.S. government has assumed the role of guarantor of global stability at a time when the American public is unwilling to provide the resources necessary to support this strategy. Private contractors fill the gap between geopolitical goals and public means.

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