delusion, mercenaries, Steubenville, Ohio and DeKalb, Georgia.
My American friend in France,
Joseph, glanced through Just Above Sunset and noted the discussion last week of why "Lawrence of Arabia" is
an appropriate film to consider these days (here) - and the item on George Bush’s odd sense of reality (here). He was particularly amused by William Saletan’s take on Bush I cited
See Trust, Don't Verify
Bush's incredible definition of credibility.
William Saletan – SLATE.COM - Posted Wednesday, April
14, 2004, at 3:27 AM PT
Joseph said he was struck with a question - "If we tend to view history through the prism
of popular movies, does that make Bush the 'Momento' president?"
Ah yes, the movie we need to pay attention to
is "Lawrence of Arabia" - but the move we actually get is "Memento." I dozed
off on the sofa one day this week and woke up to some political talk show on the television - or was it Abbott and Costello
doing that "Who's On First?" routine? Heck, if we're going to be stuck in some
movie I was hoping for something better - Peter Sellers in "A Shot in the Dark" or something.
Joseph further commented –
By the way, now that this thing has turned into the fiasco that most of us said it would, I wonder
what your "unnamed friend" is saying these days... Hey, the mistake is understandable. We're a nation that admires CEOs, we wanted a CEO president. Now that the nation and the armed services are being run efficiently, like a proper corporation (just forget
how far we're in the red) I hope that we're all happy with the result.
I told Joseph I shall see
my "unnamed friend" in a week or two – my conservative buddy is off at a trade show in Vegas this week and one somewhere
else after that. I suspect he will be silent on these matters. Bush said he'd run the country as a CEO would, and Bush does have an MBA of course - but every company
he was involved with went under. There are CEO's - then there are CEO's.
What I find curious, and something I find troubling, is that in addition to
our 130,000 troops in Iraq, we also have more than 20,000 "private contract" troops we pay quite handsomely. They've just this week been "tasked" with providing protection for the "Green Zone" - the only safe place
in Baghdad, with all the palaces and fancy hotels and former government edifices, where Viceroy Bremer works. This is to free up our "public" troops to go out and fix the larger country in whatever way they can. This is a one hundred million dollar contract.
These "private contract troops" do pretty much the same sorts of things our soldiers do - but get paid much
more and operate under no Geneva Convention restrictions at all. And, in a CEO
kind of way, you see the future. The war is becoming "privatized" - we're paying
companies like Blackwater Security (it was their guys who got strung from the bridge in Fallujah) to do the dirty work - and
that would be the wet work (targeted assassinations) and collective punishment (snipers taking out ambulances and children
for maximum psychological effect). We can say "our forces" don't do such things,
and that is perfectly true. Pretty clever.
The mistake France made in Algeria in the late fifties is that they used the regular army for torture and such things. The truth finally came out and there was no deniability. We've learned a few things since then.
Who are these
guys? Some are former members of the South African Defense Force and South African
Police. Hired guns. Guy who took
out politicians who didn’t much like apartheid. Try this regarding one of the four killed in Fallujah:
Gray Branfield, 55, admitted to being part of a death squad which gunned down Joe Gqabi, the ANC's
chief representative and Umkhonto weSizwe operational head in Zimbabwe on July 31 1981.
Gqabi was shot 19 times when three assassins ambushed him as he reversed down the driveway of his Harare home.
Nice guy! Well, he
had marketable skills.
As another fiend in Paris, Ric Erickson, commented,
In normal, not CEO, English - these 'private contract troops' are mercenaries.
The Romans used them effectively
for longer than the USA has existed; and the Nazis used them - forced them - but when the steam or money ran out, the mercenaries
couldn't save the ballgame. They saved they own asses.
But we have used them before. They helped us become
what we are. Remember the Hessians we paid to help us win the war against England,
our own revolution? We paid Germans - von Steuben and de Kalb and their troops
- to fight the redcoats for us. And we honored Baron von Steuben by naming one
of our cities after him – Steubenville, Ohio. Not much of an honor, for
those of you who have been there - Dean Martin’s hometown, rusting and dead on the river west of Pittsburgh. But it was a nice gesture. And then there is DeKalb, Georgia. Well, maybe we didn’t like these guys.
Anyway, for more background on our current pseudo-Hessian assassins, the New York Times gives enormous
detail here and you will find a comment at American Prospect here.
These guys represent the second largest force in Iraq right now. There are more of them than there are Brits in Basra.
We’ve privatized the war a bit. I’m not sure where
that will take us.
Regarding privatization, I see the government over
there is France is working hard at privatizing all these large industries - more efficient and all that. Ric and Joseph will have holy hell to pay for that this year with demonstrations and strikes.
But have Chirac's ministers considered privatizing the army?
We're working on that over here. Remember your Bonaparte - L'audace,
l'audace, toujours l'audace !
Ric Erickson gives details:
It's pretty neat. On the state-owned radio, state-owned
EDF (electricity supplier) is advertising itself in preparation for being sold via the stock market. France wants to sell a less than controlling interest in EDF - to conform to EU regulations that state
enterprises allow competition. Who, besides EDF, owns and operates the electricity
generators and the transmission lines in France? How will it be possible for
a home owner to buy electricity from 'Electros de Espana' for example? Does the
state intend to reimburse the current stockholders - the taxpayers?
Well, out here in California
we dealt with this when we deregulated the electric markets two years ago. Anyone
anywhere – from as far away as Texas and Canada - could feed the grid and get paid for it. So they all got together and withheld power to force up the prices – and we had blackouts and the
price of electricity went up three and four hundred percent for a bit. The state
was forced into long-term contracts at fixed high prices and went billions into debt just to keep the lights on. Thus the free market works – many people made quite a lot of money.
France is next.
But Ric points out the privatization business
in France is getting folks worked up.
Former law-and-order interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, now head of finance at Bercy, has just
frozen 7 billion euros of planned state expenditure. Unemployment figures have
been revised upward. Meanwhile, 650,000 unemployed cut from benefits on January
1st have won a court case, reinstating their benefits.
The 'new' government
that resulted from the recent massive slap in the face from voters seems to be more hapless than the one it replaced. The government, now facing coming EU elections, is worried but seems incapable of
veering from its course to total disaster. Yesterday, Chirac's recycled prime
minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, had the disagreeable task of meeting with all of the recently elected regional presidents
- some 20 out of 21 who are members of parties other than the government's. C'est
à dire - Socialists, Greens, Communists and other lefties.
I don't sense
that there is a huge swell of support for the parties of the left. Rather, it
seems like a total rejection of the last right-wing government's policies, and of the recycled new right-wing government's
policies. All so-called 'reforms' have either been abandoned or are on hold. The emperor has no new clothes.
only has Chirac seemed to have lost his political 'touch,' but the so-called new UMP party created to keep him in office is
losing its cools -- blowing them. Popularity polls show only 30-40 percent approval
for Chirac and Raffarin, with the latter getting worse notes than his boss. The
percentage of 'don't-knows' polled is very small.
The mayor of Paris
is not waiting patiently until Chirac is out of office and loses his immunity from prosecution, to charge him with embezzling
city funds. Maybe not so grave; maybe only a court order forcing restitution... But it gives Chirac a strong incentive to re-run for President. He only needs a miracle.
These days, 'l'audace' is
nowhere in evidence.
Indeed. Privatizing everything in France to make it look more like America seems to be meeting resistance. There’s little resistance here, but we’re not French, and proud of it.
Is Chirac as detached from reality as Bush (see above)? Ric comments on Bush – "At least he is consistently deluded, instead of only randomly."
just where is Baron von Steuben when you need him? And how are we to manage our
It seems there is always
more to be said. “Tom Tomorrow” over at This Modern World
To be fair, I'm sure a lot of these guys are just working Joes, truck drivers and so on, lured
there by the prospect of quick money, just like people I knew growing up were lured to Alaska during the fishing season--you
go for a few months and make enough money to live for a year.
not Alaska, and when these guys are carrying guns and acting for all practical purposes as soldiers, things get a little ambiguous.
Indeed they do.
You might want to read Nicholas Von Hoffman on this in The New York Observer.
Privatization in Iraq: ‘Contractors’ With Guns
Thousands of mercenaries have been put to work in Iraq.
Von Hoffman, April 22, 2004 - 9:41 AM
Von Hoffman has a gripe with CNN and all the rest on how they report on this:
American news organizations are not doing the truth a favor when they call these hired guns "U.S.
military contractors." They are not even being accurate: The men were not contractors
to the government, but Hessians or mercenary soldiers in the employ of a corporate warlord, namely Blackwater Security
Consulting. Let’s call these people what they are, even though Americans
have yet to feel completely comfortable with the idea of killing for money.
Well, yes. Call them that. And as for Americans feeling completely comfortable
with the idea of killing for money, “The Sopranos” on HBO is vastly popular, so perhaps we are less uncomfortable
than Von Hoffman thinks.
Of course the news media portrayed these guys
as innocent “contractors” and talked up the mutilation of the four in Fallujah as incredibly sad – implying
these were just guys over there to make things better. There wasn’t much
on one of them having previously admitted to being a hired assassin for the forces trying to keep apartheid going. That might have ruined they narrative? Something like that. And they are dead, and we do want to avenge them, somehow.
Yes, they were bad guys. Then things get all mixed
up. How are we to think about what is happening?
Does that justify killing them? No, nothing can justify
taking human life - but if you take one-third of a million dollars a year to walk around in somebody else’s country
with a machine gun, and you get wasted by the locals, I don’t think you deserve a very big or elaborate funeral. They were there for the money, and these men - elite ex-soldiers that they were -
knew the risks, and they took them. So be it.
Evidently, thousands of mercenaries have been put to work in Iraq, and this raises some troublesome questions. Is all this stuff we are fed on TV and in the newspapers about the new and democratic
Iraqi Army and constabulary just lies? Why aren’t Iraqis guarding "bureaucrats,
soldiers and intelligence officers"? Why aren’t soldiers guarding themselves?
Well, we do see the Iraqis
we have trained to provide their own security are not displaying immense enthusiasm for that task.
The Associated Press reports (Thursday, April 22, 2004 - 3:21:42 AM PST) that about one in every ten members of Iraq's security forces "actually worked
against" our troops during the recent militia violence in Iraq, and an additional forty percent walked off the job because
of intimidation. Who says? The commander
of the 1st Armored Division - Major General Martin Dempsey. And Dempsey says
we’re at a critical point.
So we don’t have enough troops
for our guys to protect themselves that well, and the Iraqi guys we trained are flaking out on us, or even turning on us.
Maybe privatization is the only good answer.
But Von Hoffman suggests this may be a bit bothersome -
Not only does privatization not save money waging war, it creates problem after problem, only
some of which are visible at this juncture. If captured, are these mercenaries
prisoners of war and subject to the Geneva Convention, or can they licitly be shot as spies and saboteurs?
We know that there are thousands of mercenaries now loose in Iraq.
Only some of them work for Blackwater. Apparently, there are a number
of companies who hire these people, so the question arises about how much control the American authorities have over the irregulars
running about the country. Dyncorp mercenaries in the former Yugoslavia were
accused of rape and robbery. The point is that they are not subject to military
discipline, and even if they commit no acts universally regarded as criminal, they may still do things that offend the Iraqis:
They might drink alcohol, use insulting gestures, whistle at women or find a dozen ways to get into trouble doing things which
are innocent enough if done in Indiana, but which are incendiary acts if done in Basra.
Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that Dyncorp business in the
former Yugoslavia. I shouldn’t have – as Dyncorp is now a subsidiary
of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) and I worked for those folks for almost a decade.
No, I wasn’t a mercenary. I just herded the geeks and dweebs who
kept various financial and manufacturing systems from crashing too often.
in any event, this is an odd coalition bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, whether they’re ready or not, and whether
they asked us to do that or not. Hey, it’s GOOD for them. And it was, after all, a war of self-defense – at least originally.
An odd coalition? Yes. As
I see it the largest coalition component there now is our military at 130,000, followed by Halliburton, its subsidiaries and
the reset of “industry” at 26,000 or so – but I’m not sure whether to count GE and Siemens as they
suspended operations in Iraq this week. Then come these “contract soldiers” at 20,000
or so, and then the Brits at 15,000 more or less. Spain and Honduras and the
Dominican Republic have bailed. Poland is making noises that they might bail
out. Australia is with us but has dropped to under eight hundred folks –
and won’t send more. Ah, but Fiji and Tonga are holding firm. That’s a couple dozen right there.
do need these “contract soldiers.” No one else is stepping up, and this does pay well.