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Military Contractors and Our Buck-Stops-Nowhere "Wars"

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The truth is that if (post-9/11) America wanted to fight two wars simultaneously -- and apparently endlessly -- protect our shores and project power into other parts of the globe simultaneously we needed draft. But we are a culture that refuses to make hard choices and likes happy endings, in other words we're experts at lying to ourselves. Instead of facing the fact that if you're going to fight wars you need to raise taxes and mobilize the whole country and draft citizens, we pretended we had a military adequate to the task. Besides, anyone who questioned the civilian wartime leadership would be accused of "disrespect to our wonderful men and women in uniform."

What is disrespectful to people who serve is to do what we're doing now. We keep lying to ourselves by hiring contractor personnel to do the job the military could be doing -- if it was big enough and if we stopped lying to ourselves. More "contractor" (read mercenary) abhorrent behavior is surfacing. This time it's not civilian murder in Iraq, or child prostitution from XE (formerly Backwater). It comes from a US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Some contractor guards have come forward with sworn testimony and visual evidence of sexual deviancy and drunken hazing.

In my capacity as the proud father of the United States Marine I wrote a series of opinion pieces for the Washington Post and several books on what it's like to be in military parent in the all volunteer military era while my son was a war in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of those books Keeping Faith -- A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps became a New York Times bestseller (once Oprah invited me on her show.) I also co-authored AWOL--The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country. After that was published I established close contact with hundreds of military families and many military leaders. What I say here comes from the perspective of someone connected to the military as a civilian author and also as the proud father of a son who fought in our ongoing wars. I have a deep personal love for the military family.

That said, I have less and less respect for the way our civilian leaders lack the courage to tell the truth about our wars.

Lies From the Right and Left

Which brings up a point: both the right and the left, the military and civilian leadership, Democrats and Republicans have a stake in either lying about or ignoring a very inconvenient fact: given the scope of American foreign entanglements our "all volunteer" military is a sham. It is the same sort of sham that fighting wars without paying for them is idiocy.

We are so over-extended that we hire professional contractors to bulk up what in fact is a military far too small for the onerous rotations that military people are now being deployed on again and again and again. High divorce rates, custody battles where military people, including women and mothers who come back from war are denied access to their children, and suicides are just the tip of the dysfunctional iceberg. The real problem is that the right and the left the Democrats and Republicans and our top military establishment and the government all have a percentage in keeping quiet about the truth.

As reported by various news sources, including NPR, ( Sept 2, 2009), The Pentagon's civilian contractor work force in Afghanistan outnumbers the deployment of uniformed U.S. soldiers, with contractors accounting for 57 percent of Defense Department personnel there, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service-- "the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DOD in any conflict in the history of the United States," concludes the report. Overall, as of March 31, 2009, the Defense Department employed more than 240,000 contractors in the two war zones, compared with approximately 282,000 uniformed soldiers.

How Have the Contractors Worked Out?

The founder of Blackwater USA allegedly deliberately caused the deaths of innocent civilians in a series of shootings in Iraq, attorneys for Iraqis suing the security contractor told a federal judge. The attorneys singled out Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who is the company's owner, for blame in the deaths of more than 20 Iraqis between 2005 and 2007.

Amid allegations that the contracted security force guarding the Kabul embassy have run riot the State Department a team to investigate. Alcohol has been banned at Camp Sullivan -- the compound where the guards live -- and diplomatic security officers have been assigned to keep an eye on the guards.

As reported by AP and many other sources, Blackwater's secret work for the CIA has leaked out. The company's involvment in the assassination program and the CIA drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan are front-page material in the Washington Post and New York Times. Blackwater also offered "foreign" operatives to work on the CIA assassination program.

The Real Problem

The fact is our all volunteer military has long since departed from the citizen soldier military our founders had in mind and is now professional force that is close to becoming a permanent class of mercenaries set apart in virtually gated communities rather than citizen soldiers. And with today's contractors we've taken the fateful next step: America now fields a truly imperial mercenary force.

To appease the left who will not countenance a draft, we pretend we have a military global force that doesn't need public support. And to allow the right wing Republican fat cats to send other people's children to war without asking them to commit their own children, we say the all volunteer force "works just fine."

Fighting wars without national mobilization is a sign of decadence. It means that sacrifice is denied and ignored by most while a few pay the price for a system that depends on an out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind military. This is also part of a crazy anti-government right wing nuttiness, wherein "privatizing" everything, now even our military, is seen as "good." Everything must turn a profit, right? Everything is about choice. right?

Wrong!

The Truth

The United States needs to face the truth: If we don't have the stomach to reintroduce the draft and have a military large enough to do the military's job we should stop fighting wars around the globe. We should also stop lying to ourselves. If the American public doesn't support our wars to the extent that they will tolerate a draft and much higher taxes then our wars are bogus.

The military needs to stop selling itself to the American public as the greatest American military ever while it lacks the numbers to do the military's basic job. The generals should be screaming bloody murder about the fact that traditional military roles -- such as Marines guarding our embassies -- are now being farmed out to private (and grossly incompetent, largely unsupervised) companies who answer to no one. Talk about dishonoring our men and women!

It's time for the military leadership to tell the President and Congress that the need for the hundreds of thousands of civilian workers bolstering the military proves the military can no longer do the job the President is asking it to do.

Here Are the Honest Choices:

1) Get out of our wars now or raise taxes, and raise a force commensurate with our global obligations by the draft.

or...

2) Trim our military to a true defense force and stop thinking that we can fix the world.

or...

3) If we are attacked, hit our enemies with everything we've got, then go home. Let them fear us or pay the price, no more dreams of Marshall Plans applied to completely different situations, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

To believe our own BS: that we can fight wars without costs, is leading to a bad end. Nation-building is after-the-fact nonsense. War is hell, not nation building. We aren't the good guys. We are just one more country protecting its interests. Deal with it!

Blame the Right and the Left

The left is culpable because it so denigrated and politicized military service coming out of the Vietnam era that the military brass ran for cover and are still hiding behind the all volunteer concept to protect the military from political scrutiny.

The right is culpable because it keeps launching wars without asking for moral or financial accountability from the whole American people, including higher taxes and a draft of our sons and daughters. This is lazy man's war: no need to sell it to the American people, because they aren't involved. "Other people" fight and our grandchildren will pay the bill. Let's call decadence by its name.

Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the forthcoming Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism)