Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Contracting and the War

I want to make two separate, yet related, points in this post. So bear with me.

1. The Rise of Government/Private Contracting

It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that, during the Bush Administration, the government has increased private contracting by 85%, a massive number. The same official government statistics indicate that the Bush Administration has increased private, noncompetitive contracts by 115%. And we're absolutely not just talking about the war, here. We're talking about the systematic turnover of government duties to private contractors. In short, what was once done by government employees is now being done by private contractors.

Why? Very simple: Republican Reverse Robin Hood---the Republicans are taking from the poor and middle class (by way of imbalanced income and capital gains tax systems), and giving to the rich, which is to say, the people who own these private contractors. Consider, for a moment, the important implication every time the government issues a private contract: that contractor is going to make a profit. Which means the contractor can do the job for less than it bid. If the contractor can do the job for less, why can't the government do the job for less? Reagan (whom I'm not a big fan of) at least gave lip service to making the government run more efficiently. Bush II appears to have abandoned any attempt to make the government more efficient, and has decided instead to outsource as much government as he possibly can.

Once again, why? Because neo-cons, who essentially run this administration (I'm looking at you, Cheney), hate the very concept of taxation, and aren't that big a fan of government, either. The neo-con god Grover Nordquist famously said that he wants to shrink the federal government down to the size where he can drown it in a bathtub. Private contracting is a two-fer: you can simultaneously shrink the government and give back those tax dollars to the rich business owners who donate to your campaign.

2. The Myth of a Clean War

Bling's post, and Blackwater's general troubles, inspired this post, and certainly motivated my rant against government contractors. However, I don't mean to criticize Blackwater's performance in Iraq, and I won't join in any piling-on in criticizing Blackwater for potentially killing civilians. Let me explain why, starting with a parallel example.

At this very moment, the military is prosecuting Marine Staff Sargent Frank Wuterich for murder based on the shooting of several Iraqis in the immediate aftermath of a roadside ambush on Wuterich's squad. The military initially charged every member of Sgt. Wuterich's squad with murder, but has dismissed those charges one by one, until now only Sgt. Wuterich (who was in command of the squad) is still facing charges.

To briefly summarize the events which led to these charges (a full explanation can be found here): Wuterich's squad was driving down the road when a roadside bomb took out one Humvee, killing one member of Wuterich's squad and injuring others. The squad observed a group of Iraqis nearby in a car, and it is common for the people who detonate these bombs to do so from a nearby car. So, the squad ordered the Iraqis out of the car. Upon exiting the car, the Iraqis started running away, so the squad opened fire and killed them. Immediately thereafter, the squad came under fire from a nearby cluster of houses. The squad identified the house where the fire appeared to be coming from, surrounded the house, and rolled several grenades inside, killing the occupants. The squad then came under fire from another nearby house, and stormed the house, killing those occupants. Here's the problem: the Iraqis in the car were found to be unarmed, without a detonator, and thus were merely innocent bystanders. The first house that the squad attacked was inhabited mostly by women and children, with no arms anywhere in the house. Ditto the second house. So, at the end of the day, the squad killed a number of innocent civilians, which is indisputably a tragedy.

Now, let me tell you why the prosecution of any of these Marines is a total farce. And, since I've never seen combat, let me use the words of someone who saw a whole lot of combat: "You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it...." Gen. William Sherman. And Sherman's words are as true today as they were in 1864. In every war ever fought, there have been civilian casualties. That's simply part of the bargain. In World War II, generally considered by Americans as a good and just war, Allied bombers firebombed Dresden, Germany, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Let's just say it plainly: in war, civilians die. Always have, always will.

The problem is, the Administration doesn't want to, and in some ways can't afford to, admit that to the American people. The Administration needs us to believe that this is a "clean" war, where we are killing only insurgents and winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. We all know that, in reality, this is total bullshit. But we must also recognize that this cannot be done, even in theory. The history of war proves otherwise. Indeed, the history of war suggests that military commanders are no more than passingly concerned with civilian casualties, so long as a strategic goal is met. The atom bombs dropped on Japan are convincing proof of this.

As Americans, we need to understand that every time our military flexes its muscles, the inevitable result is civilian casualties. Understanding this, we must always ask ourselves: is it worth it? It can be argued, and I would be willing to argue, that the civilian casualties in World War II, which probably topped ten million when counted world wide (Russian alone suffered several million), were worth it, given what was at stake. I think it is equally clear that, in Iraq, they are not worth it. Others may disagree, but we all need to understand that the debate cannot based on the theory that war can be conducted cleanly. If we believe in what we are doing in Iraq, we should be willing to tolerate civilian casualties. If civilian casualties bother us, and the government's treatment of Sgt. Wuterich and Blackwater suggest that the government is indeed bothered, we should take that as a sign that perhaps we no longer believe the hype. And when we recognize that, we must recognize that it is time to withdraw.

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