Looking back across earlier portions of this series, we can see these dismal trends continuing in real time. For example, see a detailed look at the effort to transform the US military into a force for radical christianity.
And yet, is it possible that -- after shouting into silence for years -- I can see hope at last? Signs of quiet back-pressure from the grownups of the U.S. Officer Corps have been evident ever since the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and his replacement by the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Now, with the departure of “Rumsfeld’s Parrot” -- Gen. Peter Pace -- from the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it appears that the top tier of at least one department may be back in the hands of professionals and adults. (Read an excellent article about this.)
Will this be anywhere near enough? Alas, not when the President might still, at any moment, dash off an order hurling a gung-ho US Air Force -- and those Naval attack squadrons that cannot resist by working-to-rule -- into a rash and lobotomized series of pinprick provocations against Iran.
To prevent this... and stop this administration’s relentless, top-down treason in all its forms... another set of professionals must stand up and do their part. The FBI. The men and women of the intelligence services. Civil servants in every department. It is time for them to decide whose side they are on. Invoking long dormant protocols (or innovating new ones) for what to do when the nation’s immune systems have been infected and taken over by a virulent disease at the very top.
The social and political equivalent of AIDS.
Only now... back to our series on what has been done to our military by the Bush Administration and by a transformed and mutated GOP.
Privatization: Only the Best for Contractors, and the Worst for our Troops
So far, this series has examined many ways that the Bush administration (and allies) betrayed the U.S. military -- especially the Army and Marines -- as part of a larger War Against Professionalism. (See Part Three: Destroying Military Readiness).
Along this desolate journey, we have crossed a landscape of eviscerated national reputation, allies driven off, enemies emboldened and - worst of all - service men and women treated like expendable pieces in a game, played by overcompensating, macho little boys. And it gets worse.
But WHY quash, destroy or demoralize all government professionals? Especially stripping our defenses and crippling the military?. Why would Team Bush do such things?
The short answer is -- accountability. Or rather, avoidance thereof. The one trait that is common among government scientists, the civil service, the intelligence and law enforcement communities, and the U.S. Officer Corps is that these large pools of highly skilled and dedicated people have been trained to see. They are the ones who might puzzle together patterns, reveal corruption, or refuse to allow unconstitutional usurpations of undue power. If your aim were to seize permanent power in the United States -- or simply to stay out of jail, after robbing the U.S. blind -- it would make perfect sense to concentrate on paralyzing the professionals. And to hide it all in clouds of secrecy.
I am not the only one tracking this overall trend. With a far better soapbox than I, syndicated columnist Paul Krugman has also been on target. He had this to say, a few weeks ago (9/28/07) in the New York Times:
“Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work. Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies.”
Unqualified... but also obedient, dogmatic and willing to bully the civil servants under them, distracting, or re-assigning or cauterizing the careers of those who -- in the course of their duties -- happen to look in forbidden directions.
But (again) why?
Advice from the Watergate era still has resonance. Follow the money. Last time, for example, we saw how President Bush has invoked a “national state of emergency,” for six years, with the principal effect that it lets him bypass normal, competitive bidding rules in the areas of Defense and Homeland Security. Emergency contracts have been granted to companies that are blatant Bush-Cheney consorts, with little or no subsequent supervision or oversight.
Let there be no mistake. The left has been proved just plain wrong in its reflex explanation, that the Iraq War “was about oil.” The real profit has come from those non-competitive contracts. From the war itself.
* The very, very, very worst examples.... that we know of
One recent book that exposes the seamy side of privatization (though dipping now and then into polemical excess) is Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, by Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman.
I thought about writing my own summary, but the one on Amazon suffices: “In this shocking exposé, two government fraud experts reveal how private contractors have put the lives of countless American soldiers on the line while damaging our strategic interests and our image abroad. From the shameful war profiteering of companies like Halliburton/KBR to the sinister influence that corporate lobbyists have on American foreign policy, to the use of “emergency” declarations to evade normal contracting procedures, Dina Rasor and Robert H. Bauman paint a disturbing picture. Here they give the inside story on troops forced to subsist on little food and contaminated water, on officers afraid to lodge complaints because of Halliburton's political clout, on millions of dollars in contractors' bogus claims that are funded by American taxpayers, and privatized services that cost ten to thirty times as much as they did, when performed better by civil servants. Drawing on exclusive sources within government and the military, the authors show how greed and insider deals have conspired to undermine our fighting forces and threaten the security of our country.”
Phew. And you’ll find even more searing poignancy in some of the Amazon reader reviews! Take this excerpt:
“When I entered Baghdad in April 2003 and initially occupied Saddam's bombed out Ramadan palace to setup the new government, I was their as a civilian contractor. I was thrilled! I made more pay in 4 months as a contractor than in 4 years as a soldier. Months later, when I was called to service by my unit, I didn't respond to serve my country as a soldier because I was already in Baghdad. The army can't admit that's a problem, so they transferred me into the inactive reserves so I could stay in the war and make oodles of money. Again, I was thrilled! I stayed in Iraq and made so much money doing a job as good as a soldier with incompatible equipment impossible to interact with the army needs for 40x the military pay, that I bought a new house in Florida every other month. We didn't accomplish a damn thing as contractors. In fact, we broke more stuff than we brought and lost the rest but who cares? I wasn't responsible for it? The corporation was. Hell, I still have a bullet proof vest my corporation bought for me while soldiers were going into battle w/o body armor. I had the best! “
One powerful point in the book is how inefficient most Bush “privatizations” have been, especially in Iraq. The mythology, tenaciously clung-to by conservatives of all stripes, and not just neocons, has always been that corporate entities are universally more efficient that government ones. Study after study has shown that the real life facts are far more complicated, and often diametrically opposite to this article of faith. But when it comes to the privatization efforts of the Bush Administration, this hoary cliche is exposed as an utter travesty.
Bush’s own General Accounting Office (GAO) has declared -- that contractor-run services in Iraq average four to ten times as costly as the same services, when performed by soldiers or civil servants.
(A side note to ponder at leisure: whenever Democrats have de-regulated an industry -- e.g. banking, trucking, telecommunications, airlines, and the Internet -- the central effect was to increase competition. In fact, nearly all major DE-regulations during our lifetime have been promulgated by Democratic administrations, the exact opposite to popular conception.
(In contrast Whenever Republicans deregulate, it somehow always results in reduced competition, inefficiency and a subsequent, economy-rocking scandal. Clear examples include the Savings and Loan and cable industry “reforms”of the 1980s, supervised by George H. W. Bush, and Energy Industry “reforms” passed under George W. Bush. But none of these hold a candle against the half a trillion dollars that has gone into non-competitive, cost-plus Iraq War contracts, granted to Bush family friends.)
Meanwhile, on September 26, 2007, the GAO released a report revealing that the DOD and the VA are taking no better care of the wounded troops now than they were when the Washington Post broke the story about Walter Reed hospital, two years ago. MRAP armored (mine resistant) replacements for the humvee are tragically late, in the latest case of undersupplying the troops. And Iraqi civilians fume because delivery of basic services -- such as electricity and clean water and trash pickup, aren’t any better, after mountains of cash poured into infrastructure projects that get nothing done, making many yearn for well-ordered times before 2003.
And... oh... there was that missing billion dollars. In cash. That Bush officials simply “lost” in Iraq. By the side of a road. No heads rolled over that.
Can one even compare this to the so-called scandals under Bill Clinton? The difference in scale so boggles the mind that it may explain why Republicans could feel outrage at “Whitewater”, then simply blink in dull incomprehension over Neocon-era thievery. After all, you can imagine what you, personally, would do with $80,000. But a billion? In lost cash? The mind reels. It turns away.
* Even Worse -- Getting the Taxpayers to Subsidize the Creation of Private Armies for the Rich.
Of course, none of this more than touches upon the darkest aspect of the trend, described in Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
“Based in the wilderness of North Carolina, it is the fastest-growing private army on the planet with forces capable of carrying out regime change throughout the world. Blackwater protects the top US officials in Iraq and yet we know almost nothing about the firm's quasi-military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and inside the US. Blackwater was founded by an extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian mega-millionaire ex- Navy Seal named Erik Prince, the scion of a wealthy conservative family that bankrolls far-right-wing causes.”
I have been fuming over Blackwater Security Services, ever since this burgeoning mercenary enforcement company sent private troops to intimidate local cops and to illegally patrol public bridges, during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, violently preventing poor folks in New Orleans from crossing into rich enclaves, even when their only goal was to pass through, seeking safety and transportation on the other side. *
While this trend is frightening in at least a dozen ways that go far beyond the topic of this series. Our primary focus remains mainly on how privatization of force has affected the military.
Consider this: even extreme libertarians, like Ayn Rand, have always conceded that governments should retain “a monopoly on the use of coercion and force.” Yes, many rabid libertarians despise the modern state and rail against excessive bureaucracy. They wish the military would simply guard our borders. Courts should simply enforce contracts and punish bullies who use coercion privately. Indeed, within those ideal limits, libertarians hold with the social compact that founded America -- that private force is a dangerous vestige of the days of mercenary condottieri and rule by feudal lords.
Oh, it is easy to see where Blackwater fits into the grand scheme. Members of the US Officer Corps who seem pliable can be offered lucrative retirement jobs in a new force that does not answer to any of our accountable institutions, nor any of the rigorous procedures that have become core elements of character in our professional - and national - armed services.
As for why neocons are pushing this trend, as part of their larger-scale putsch, well, there is a long tradition. Caesar turned Roman legions into personal ones. The SA and SS could perform actions that the German Wehrmacht found unpalatable. And these predecessors, too, would up servicing the mighty while paid out of public coffers.
Still, one question especially bugs me. Put aside the Secret Masters of this program and the mercenaries themselves, and the fanatics. What about the old fashioned conservatives who still make up the bulk of the Republican Party? Have they no sense of imagination or shame? Do they ever, ever pause and ask themselves “what would I have done, if Bill Clinton had tried to pull even one percent of this stuff?”
Hypocrites who raged over Whitewater, but see nothing to worry about in Blackwater, have simply chosen sides for visceral reasons and will let their minds see nothing disturbing.
Above all, the “side” they have chosen is not us. America. Civilization. It is a partisan movement that’s been taken over by monsters.
==Continue to Part 8
or return to Part 1 of this series