A forthcoming study by private-military contractor expert P.W. Singer obtained by TPMmuckraker finds that Blackwater and other private security firms in Iraq are detrimental to U.S. counterinsurgency efforts.
Singer, author of the landmark book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry
, goes beyond the current Blackwater imbroglio to criticize the entire system for security contracting in Iraq. He finds that even though private military firms represent a hindrance to counterinsurgency objectives, the privatization boom beginning in the 1980s has left the U.S. military functionally dependent on the companies for numerous combat operations and logistics tasks. Private military companies have become "the ultimate enabler" for military commitments, Singer writes in "Can't Win With 'Em, Can't Go To War Without 'Em: Private Military Contractors and Counter-Insurgency," allowing a politically cost-free way for the U.S. to go to war in Iraq without a massive call-up of reserve forces.
What the contracting industry diminishes in political cost it compounds in actual cost to counterinsurgency. Iraqis view private companies like Blackwater as lawless, and they have no reason to distinguish between private contractors and U.S. troops -- thereby compounding the danger to U.S. forces from infuriated Iraqis.
A real world example illustrates how this process plays out. An Iraqi is driving in Baghdad, on his way to work. A convoy of black-tinted SUVs comes down the highway at him, driving in his lane, but in the wrong direction. They are honking their horns at the oncoming traffic and firing machine gun bursts into the road and in front of any vehicle that gets too close. He veers to the side of the road. As the SUVs drive by, Western-looking men in sunglasses point machine guns at him.
Over the course of the day, that Iraqi civilian might tell X people about how "The Americans almost killed me today, and all I was doing was trying to get to work." Y is the number of other people that convoy ran off the road on its run that day. Z is the number of convoys in Iraq that day. Multiply X times Y times Z times 365 and you have a mathematical equation for how to lose a counterinsurgency in a year. (And that assumes he doesn't tell his mom or wife about the incident, upon which they are likely to tell the entire neighborhood about how the Americans almost killed their boy/husband, multiplying the equation further.)
Even more simply, private military contractors aren't in the chain of command, meaning U.S. officers are powerless to stop them from engaging in activities deleterious to a command plan. The most striking example: the lynched Blackwater contractors in Falluja in 2004 entered the city without consultation with the local Marine unit. After the televised lynching, the meticulous Marine plan to win hearts and minds within the city was scotched by a White House and higher command eager for retribution. (For an alternative argument to Singer's about harmonizing contractors with the chain of command, see this essay from counterterrorism expert Malcolm Nance -- which, full disclosure, he asked for my input on prior to publication.)
Singer's recommendation is to "roll... inherently governmental functions back into governmental hands." In other words, he wants to reverse the trend toward outsourcing functions that would harm a mission if executed poorly. These include interrogations, protection of key personnel, and delivery of crucial fuel or ammunition supplies. (Green Beans Coffee or Burger King could remain open in the Green Zone under Singer's formulation.) He claims that skeptics, like Amb. Ryan Crocker, who claim that there isn't an alternative to private security firms like Blackwater, sound like "pushers, enablers and addicts."
Singer's paper is slated for publication tomorrow by the Brookings Institution.