08/03/2010 05:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Washington Rules and PMC

Today is the official release date of Washington Rules: America's Path To Permanent War by Andrew J. Bacevich.

Bacevich is author of several, meticulously documented books on American geopolitical ambitions and the use of the military to serve those ends. Past works, to name a few, include The Imperial Tense: Prospects and Problems of American Empire; American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy; The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War; The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II; and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

This book, and some of his past ones are published by the American Empire Project, a book series that deals with the recent imperialist and exceptionalist tendencies in U.S. foreign policy.

Bacevich, it is important to note, is no garden variety armchair academic. Although he is now a professor of international relations at Boston University he is also a retired career officer in the United States Army. He graduated from West Point in 1969 and served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Later he held posts in Germany and the Persian Gulf up to his retirement from the service with the rank of Colonel in the early 1990s. On May 13, 2007, his son, 1LT Andrew J. Bacevich, Jr., was killed in action in Iraq by an improvised explosive device in Iraq.

In terms of street credibility, he has tons more than the average commentator on the issue. He has doubtlessly experienced far more about the way military affairs actually happen in the real world than the average PMC trade association will ever know. So what he writes on the subject of PMC is worth reading.

I disagree that PMC are mercenaries, based on the legal definition of the word as one finds in the Geneva Conventions. But everything else in the below quote I agree with one hundred percent.

Since Vietnam, military and civilian authorities presiding over the capital that bears the old general's name have abandoned his position, radically revising--indeed severing--the relationship between citizenship and soldiering. As with owning a gun or getting an abortion, military service falls within the realm of activities governed by individual choice. To defend the country and its interests, the United States now relies on volunteers who fill the ranks of a professional military establishment only loosely connected to American society.

In General Washington's day this was known as a "standing army." To the extent that the pool of willing volunteers proves insufficiently deep, the Pentagon makes up the difference by outsourcing many functions that uniformed regulars once performed. In an earlier day, such hired auxiliaries were known as war profiteers or mercenaries, terms freighted with unsavory connotations. Today to conceal such unseemliness, the preference is to use anodyne terms like private security firms and private contractors.

The United States does not rely on this mix of military professionals and profit-oriented contractors because doing so delivers policy outcomes at an affordable price. Based on these criteria, the arrangement flunks, as the post-9/11 record amply demonstrates. Only when it comes to satisfying the ambitions of those wielding power and influence in Washington, while giving the American people a pass, can this system be said to work.

The Founders, the commander of the Continental Army not least among them, disparaged standing armies as inconsistent with republican virtue while posing a potential threat to republican institutions. Today, Americans evince little interest in cultivating virtue, preferring instead the frantic pursuit of happiness, defined more often that not in terms of wealth, celebrity, and personal license. Washington meanwhile concerns itself less with the well-being of republican institutions that with feathering its own net, relying on adventurism abroad to divert attention from chronic dysfunction at home.

pp. 243-244