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Barrett Brown

Barrett Brown

Posted: September 8, 2009 01:33 PM

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Oliver North is a Nut


Oliver North is upset. It seems that the Pentagon's increasing reliance on civilian contractors is to receive a minor degree of scrutiny, a development he characterizes as involving "threats of inquisitions," which is literally true insomuch as that Congress will perhaps make some inquiries into the matter. Naturally, North has been adverse to congressional oversight ever since Congress forced him to lie about the crimes he had committed in service to what he once referred to as the "neat idea" of selling weapons to Iran. He is not keen on the media, either; both, North says, are today motivated by some sort of sinister, fifth column pacifism. "Disparaging and de-funding civilian contractors is just one more way of disarming America," he explains in the pages of Human Events, itself reportedly the favorite magazine of the president who once had to fire him.

One might point out that objections to private suppliers of men and arms are nothing new and have in fact been made by several prominent American statesmen who obviously had no desire to see American disarmed, and that this would certainly seem to refute the argument that those who make such objections are necessarily seeking to disarm America. In fact, I was about to make this very point when I found that North had, bizarrely, made it himself:

In the opening days of World War II, then Sen. Harry Truman became famous for threatening to "lock up" civilian contractors for producing sub-par munitions, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower ominously warned against the threat of a "military-industrial complex."

So after setting out to establish that those who criticize contractors are wacky peace creeps, North cites the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and the fellow who dropped two atom bombs on Japan as having criticized contractors. This is a very interesting strategy, akin to claiming that all fish are red and then backing up one's assertion by pointing out two fish which are blue. But North, who no doubt thinks his argument is going very well at this point, suddenly decides that what he's actually arguing is that the two blue fish were only somewhat blue and thus don't count, but that other, bluer fish may be found today.
However, [the anti-contractor rhetoric of Eisenhower and Truman] is pale by comparison to the viscera now being aimed at civilian contractors supporting the campaigns in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates and in the shadow of the Hindu Kush.

Our colonel does not cite any examples of these mainstream objections, which he deems so much more critical than Eisenhower's characterization of the military-industrial complex as something we must guard against lest "the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes," itself about as critical as critical gets. He doesn't cite any mainstream objections of a more critical nature because they don't exist; in order to top Eisenhower's warning, a fellow would basically have to claim that civilian contractors are secretly assembling a nuclear arsenal with which to destroy the world in service to some ancient Sumerian deity. Though he can't actually identify any of these terrible things that have been said about our nation's apple-cheeked mercenaries, North knows exactly who's been saying them.
"Contractor" is the new "dirty word" in the so-called mainstream media -- and in Washington.

Of course, contractor is also a dirty word among some military men, including several I've spoken to, particularly those who've been on duty over the past couple of years, but North's policy has always been to portray Washington and the media as being in effeminate opposition to members of the armed services, who must always be in agreement with himself. At any rate, North claims that these non-existent objections, which are somehow more serious than Eisenhower's meta-objection, are leading to some unprecedented and disheartening trends at the Pentagon.
In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to hire 30,000 additional DoD employees to cut the percentage of work being done by contractors. The FY 2010 Defense Budget request replaces nearly 14,000 contractor personnel with government employees -- even though the "lifetime cost" -- counting government benefits and retirement -- will more than double the expense to American taxpayers.

So, in the midst of two wars and numerous operations elsewhere, the Department of Defense hires 30,000 employees who will be entirely accountable to the Department of Defense and our nation's rules of engagement rather than to Blackwater (which, of course, has now changed its name to "Xe" lest it be associated with itself), and suddenly North is worried that too much money is being spent on the military. Here's a fun little parlor game: try to find an instance besides this in which North has expressed concern about excessive military spending. And here's a fun little parlor game that you can actually win: Google "Oliver North military spending" and click on the first link that comes up, which itself turns out to be a Fox News op-ed North wrote just a few months ago in which he calls on the federal government to increase military spending:
But the Obama administration and their supporters on Capitol Hill need to understand that when it comes to spending, there are few things government can do that has a more immediate, positive effect on jobs and the overall the economy than expenditures on national defense.

Good point, Ollie. Maybe the DoD could hire 30,000 new employees to assist with the national defense. It just might be crazy enough to work!


Like any truly mediocre thinker, North does not anticipate the obvious counterpoint to his sudden and disingenuous call for fiscal restraint via increased mercenary deployment -- the counterpoint that price-gouging, late deliveries, and shoddy worksmanship on the part of his beloved contractors have already cost the American taxpayer billions in wasted dollars, with several incidents having resulted in injuries and even deaths among our troops and Iraqis alike. Here is a man who cannot see two steps ahead of his own argument and who does not seem to recall things he himself wrote months ago or even just a few sentences prior, as if he were a goldfish with thumbs and a keyboard and a crack pipe that somehow works underwater.

North is not content to assail the federal government for doing what he recently told it to do or to blast the mainstream media for things it hasn't actually done -- he is also compelled to attack the media for failing to report things that it has in fact reported countless times:

Though it's unlikely to make the lead story in any of the mainstream media, contractors are performing tasks that U.S. government entities either cannot do -- or that cannot be done as economically.

Ready for another parlor game? Google "civilian contractors Iraq" without quotes and read the two mainstream news stories that immediately come up. The first of these is a CBS report from 2006 in which several contractors are interviewed about the risks they faced in Iraq and the injuries that their swell employers have refused to treat. The second is a CNN piece from 2004 that explains everything North says is unlikely to be explained about the important role that contractors can serve in U.S. military operations, and does so without a single word of criticism. Spend a few more minutes searching and you'll find other stories in the same vein, all written and published within the purview of the mainstream media, no doubt by accident.


There are legitimate reasons for the Pentagon to employ civilian contractors and outside firms to assist with a variety of tasks both at home and abroad; there are also legitimate reasons to call attention to the problems that have come up as a result. But there is no legitimate reason to accuse large swaths of the American citizenry of seeking to disarm America each time serious concerns are voiced by the media, our elected representatives, or members of the military; to deem such objections as being motivated by hatred for the armed forces or by a desire to see America disarmed, one would have to be a hyperactive crypto-fascist like Oliver North. That lets Oliver North off the hook, of course.

Read more at True/Slant; e-mail me.