Rent a war

The real significance of hired guns in Iraq. Plus, combating Ann Coulter.
By EDITORIAL  |  October 17, 2007


Wonder why the Iraq government changed its mind about expelling Blackwater, the rent-a-soldier company whose employees killed 17 civilians this past month?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked it to. That’s why. The 168,000 American troops are stretched too thin “winning” Bush’s war to be able to provide protection for US diplomats. There is no denying that this is a sorry and startling fact.

Even more startling is the realization that the war would not be possible if it were not for the presence of what Bush calls “defense contractors.” These contractors are, in fact, mercenaries — guns for hire. They are not to be confused with uniformed soldiers and Marines, who serve out of a sense of duty. Mercenaries are in it for the money.

Blackwater’s employees are only the most visible boots of a vast hired army. The Department of Defense estimates that there are more than 160,000 mercenaries working in Iraq. It guesses the strength of contractor guns to be roughly equivalent to the total of US military forces. Some European estimates place the number as high as 200,000.

What is startling about all of this is that it means there are, in reality, twice as many US-controlled forces on the ground in Iraq than the disillusioned American public realizes. And half of them are being paid well in excess of what enlisted men and women make.

The issue of US-controlled mercenaries in Iraq involves far more than logistics and equity. It points to a historic disconnect. Never before has the United States had to employ mercenaries to fight in its name. It is the stuff of desperation and bankrupt imperialism.

All of this is not news to those in Washington who style themselves against the war, but seek only to investigate narrowly the role of Blackwater, rather than the role and significance of American mercenaries in general.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is prominent in those ranks. And that leaves one wondering what she is all about. Surely she must know that Blackwater is a symptom of a larger wrong? But then again, Clinton did support Bush’s war and remains hell-bent on not admitting that mistake. She also was recently among those who voted to edge the nation closer to war with Iran.

Clinton may yet reassure those who find her actions more confusing than comforting. But until she does, she remains a potent representation of the damage Bush has inflicted upon this nation. If a political figure as smart and as strong and as ambitious as Clinton is reduced to playing statecraft according to rules set by arguably the worst US president in history, then the nation may be in even deeper trouble than many fear.

A modest proposal
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Ann Coulter is a right-wing shock pundit. And if you think about it for a second or two, you realize that Coulter has perfected the technique of saying outrageous things to generate headlines. Those headlines, in turn, attract the attention of the low-rent audience that buys her books, which prompts others to buy even more books, thus further enriching Coulter. It’s a despicable but effective act.

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