Some of you have asked me to comment on the presence of private “security contractors” in Iraq. I think enough time has passed since the horrific events in Fallujah that people can comment bluntly about this. I’ll have to warn you–it’s a long post.

While I was in Iraq, I worked briefly with some of these guys. I can’t tell you what organization they belonged to, mostly for reasons of operational security. But I can say that these guys were utterly professional, and performed their jobs–from my vantage point, anyway–with dispatch and skill.

A lot of this is due to the fact that the majority of the people that are hired by companies like Blackwater and Custer Battles are members of the Special Operations community. People who go into special ops are among the best soldiers, sailors, and airmen you can imagine, both in terms of skills and in terms of comportment and deportment. While there may be bad apples in the bunch, like anywhere else, for the most part, these are among the best that America has to offer. I’d go out and say better than most, because the rewards are few, and the risks are many–far fewer in the former, and far larger in the latter, than most of us have to face, day in and day out.

That people in SOCOM end up working for outfits like Blackwater says volumes about our government’s inability to properly compensate those who choose to defend it.

But it absolutely screams when it turns out that these companies, and others, are responsible for some of the most vital work that’s being done in Iraq. We’re not just talking about security consultants; we’re also talking about weapons systems maintenance; about central supply warehouses; and about the feeding and housing of soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

I have no problem with having the free market provide many solutions to our problems. But the market cannot be the only provider of those solutions. Especially not when we’re at war, and especially not in a war zone.

You may not be aware of this, but many–if not, indeed, most or all–of these contractors have exit clauses that allow them to leave the area of operations if they feel they’re in danger. By definition, a war zone is hazardous duty (after all, that is why they give us the rifles.

What are we going to do if these contractors start leaving in droves–which, given how badly the situation in Iraq has deteriotated in the past week, they well may?

In the Army, for example, we use several highly critical systems that the operators cannot troubleshoot beyond a very basic level; hence, the presence of civilian consultants and “supergrades” who actually do the vast majority of the repairs and troubleshooting. What do we do if these systems fail, and the repairmen aren’t present to fix them?

And I haven’t even addressed the feeding and housing of the troops. How would we handle that, should the cooks and others leave?

In their haste to celebrate the holy sanctity of the infallible free market, this Administration has placed America’s ability to wage war in danger, I believe. And that can never be tolerated.

In addition, I think it’s deeply troubling that these various security companies are basically operating on their own. We’ve read stories where CJTF-7 (the Coalition military HQ) really has no idea what these folks are up to on a daily basis. Blackwater, and others like it, are out there in the wild blue yonder, doing their own thing. They’re out there operating without our oversight, and they have access to our intelligence assets on an “ad-hoc” basis and access to some really heavy weaponry and systems.

I mean, these guys even have their own attack helicopters! I had the same reaction to that that Phil Carter had, which was WTF? Their own helicopters?

This is just me, but if these guys are going to be operating in Iraq–or other places (read: Afghanistan)–then they absolutely have to come under our oversight. Nothing else will do. When it comes to the average Afghan or Iraqi or Uzbek or Kurd, the fact that these guys belong to Blackwater or Custer Battles or Dyncorp is secondary to the fact that these guys are, by and large, American.

And if they’re going to expect our protection, then they have to expect our control. Nothing else will do. Which is why, I suspect, that they operate rather quietly, so to speak–they don’t want to be under our operational control, and they don’t expect our support. There’s strings attached.

But we shouldn’t permit them there. And if that puts a crimp on our warfighting capabilities, then it’s clear that we have to increase them, no matter what some may say. We need more bodies on the ground–it’s as clear as that. And not just combat bodies, but support bodies as well.

Let me, finally, address the whole matter of Markos “Daily Kos” Zuniga’s comments regarding the security operators. I think I should, given that, like Kos, I’m both a resident of the left side of the blogging neighborhood, and a veteran.

First, his comments were, frankly, very painful. No matter what kind of men the Fallujah Four may have been (and I don’t know), the last thing four grieving families want to hear is that the dead basically deserved what they got–which is what he was saying.

No one deserves the kind of desecration that those guys got. And it’s not because they’re Americans–no human deserves that kind of treatment. It’s wrong, and morally disgusting. And I have to question just where your sense of right and wrong is if those pictures, and that video footage, didn’t bother you, and anger you even the tiniest bit. I don’t ever want to see fellow men and women–my brothers and sisters in this earth–treated like that. Ever.

If there’s one thing that waging war has taught me, it’s to appreciate life, in all its forms. And so I was utterly repelled by the images I saw that day.

And I was repelled by Kos’ reaction to those images. Even if you disagree with what we’re doing in Iraq, he was wrong to say what he said, in the way he said it.

But you know what? He had the grace, and the humility to admit and apologize for his comments. Even if he based that apology on a childhood spent in the shadows of war in El Salvador*, it was still an apology.

Which is more than what, say, Ann Coulter has done. This would be the same Ann Coulter who wanted to kill all the Arab leaders and convert the Muslim world to Christianity; the same Ann Coulter who thinks all liberals (read: anyone who disagrees with her) are traitors, and therefore worthy to receive the ultimate penalty; and the same Ann Coulter who bemoaned the fact that the 9/11 attacks didn’t take out the New York Times.

For all the shrieking that people like the increasingly pompous and strident Glenn Reynolds squawked about Kos, I’ve yet to see any of them abjure Ann Coulter. And unlike Kos, she hasn’t had the decency to even claim she was misquoted. On the contrary…she stands by those statements, and then some. And it’s not just Ann…Mike Savage, and the rest of that ill-mannered brood do it too.

So, how about it? They got Kos. Okay.

But next time Ann opens her mouth, I’m nailing Glenn and the rest of them to her–until they cry uncle. Glenn hasn’t dismissed Ann? Fine. He must be a fan.

It’s only fair, you see.

*My reaction to that was okay, so what? The fact that one grows up in the shadows of war doesn’t justfiy saying that the Fallujah Four had it coming. And it’s a stretch–in my book–to compare the Salvadoran death squads to Blackwater consultants. One was a bunch of thugs. The other–so far as we know–isn’t.

UPDATE: Corrected the spelling of the title of the post. Thanks, Fernando.


13 responses to “Condottierri

  1. Ron In Portland

    Phil brought up the comand and control issues with the contracters and I think that is indeed a problem. You bring up an even more troubling problem, are the contracters going to split when the going gets tough leaving our troops without food or supplies? Unfortunately we may be about to find that out. Contracts being let as political spoils of war is indeed offensive. As a Viet Nam era vet I see that as a war we could not win without defoliating the entire country and killing everyone outside of Saigon. The A$$ holes in both the Democratic and Republican administrations knew that and continued to let young men die because of the political repercussions of admitting defeat. In my book that makes them war criminals. If I believed in heaven and hell I would hope there was a special place in hell for them.
    Those of us who opposed the war in Iraq did not do it because with thought Saddam was a nice guy. We opposed it because was feared what we are seeing now was inevitable. The real threat was in Afghanistan and resources were pulled from there to fight the war in Iraq. Now we are losing Afghanistan and al Quida has had 2 years to re-group and morph into a new de-centralized enemy.

  2. Ron In Portland

    Linked this to KOS, hope you don’t mind

  3. Sorry. The Iraqis didn’t kill those MERCENARIES in a vacuum. Aquaint yourself what happened the week before.

    Then take a good hard look at what has happened in Falluja. Four hundred fifty Iraqis murdered.
    When’s it enough blood for you?

    Helicopters, 500 lb bombs, tanks, armoured vehicles.

    Seem like a fair fight to you? The rest of the goddman world doesn’t think so. And neither do I.

    So if you think I shed a tear for some damn MERCENARIES who get paid $1,000 to 2,000 dollars a DAY? Yer dreaming.

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  9. He had the grace, and the humility to admit and apologize for his comments.

    Sheesh. Urban legend.

    Hey, you’re not being held in-theater, are you? I trust your return-home process is too far advanced to be rescinded? I hope so.

  10. Fairly accurate concept. Honour then its mother language spelling it correctly. “Condottieri”, plural of “condottiero”.

  11. What the hell does it matter what was done with the bodies of those fellas after they’d been killed? They were in a war zone, they knew the risks, their number came up. Simple as that.

    Did the people who slammed Kos for his remarks also express their outrage at the thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed in the two wars, or the tens of thousands of people killed by the sanctions and the destruction of the first war? Didn’t think so.

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