I don’t know how you feel about paying some yahoo ex special ops, or Navy SEAL dude, or left over trained killer from Belgium or South Africa, and other Blackwater types, six figures a year to shoot up Iraqi or Afghan woman and children and guard some congressman over there for a photo op for his newsletter, but it frankly scortches my sweet cheeks. After slaughtering, with impunity, some twenty-five Iraqi citizens in a square, Blackwater was told to leave by the Iraqi parliament, but apparently Mr. al-Maliki was persuaded (?) to allow them to remain. They are still there. And now we learn that even after President Obama’s semi-surge is manned-up that mercenaries will outnumber actual troops in Afghanistan. Some of them were caught on video having a great time pumping vodka up each others butts.* How does our security come to depend so heavily, and expensively, on some ex security guard from a gated community near Orlando?
That’s a rhetorical question. Answer:
Well, that’s not really the answer, but it was an answer that was made all the clearer to me when I stumbled upon my creased, smudgy, and worn draft card the other day. Yup, that’s me: 30-76-40-165 (3-A). I carried it, as the instructions on the back required, for years (notice the blank after “until”), always threatening to burn it, and maybe toasted its edges a time or two. But I am a compulsive and inveterate collector of memorabilia (I still have my Brotherhood of Teamsters union card somewhere). 3-A put me twice removed from the main pool of call-ups; by then I had a wife and two kids and, by the date on it, exactly a year away from defending my Ph.D. dissertation. I wasn’t going anywhere unless General Giap decided to stage the next Tet offensive in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I felt sorry for guys who were drafted into a stupid, senseless civil war among a people who never did a thing to us. Most of draftees couldn’t find Vietnam on a map. I don‘t think we really appreciated the threat of the draft to young(er) men of my generation until it Nixon ended it six and a half years later. My draft card went into an envelope that has followed me around until I exhumed and scanned it today. Maybe this why I kept it.
President Obama strained to distinguish Vietnam from Iraq and Afghanistan. Fundamentally, he failed, because at that level what is now “Obama’s War” is another stupid, preemptive war against another people who did not attack us. Yes, I know, I know, Al Qaeda did attack us, and the Taliban have given them a place to hang out and train and scheme. But by that logic, we should be bombing Saudi Arabia, which funds the enterprise, and Pakistan, which is the new AQ refuge (and we are rocketing from drones). It’s a tricky business, I will grant, but AQ is a tumor, and our clumsy attempts to excise it have done little more that spread its hatred and resentment of our country that might (I say might) have been avoided if we had gotten our military asses out of Saudi Arabia and Islam’s holy sites years before 2001.**
What has made all this stupidity possible is that—and this is the evil genius of Bush-Cheney—the Iraq and Afghan wars have been conducted fiscally “off the books” and that the war has been waged by a volunteer army, supplemented not by conscripts, but by a huge, shadowy and unregulated army of mercenaries. Since America moved to an all-volunteer-be-all-that-you-can-be-Army-and-we-need-a-few-good-men-Marines military force (composed mostly of last resort for future-less farm and ghetto a kids) there just have not been enough troops available to staff two wars and dozens of military bases around the expanding American imperium. “Normally,” the answer would be to begin to draft young men into the military, but to the surprise of many people it was learned back in 1973 that the draft was the main impetus to the anti-war movement in the streets of American cities. However we might wish to portray that movement as purely noble and humanitarian, there was a good deal of self-interest in it as well. When the draft ended the air went out of the anti-war movement.
Put another way, Bush-Cheney, and now Barack Obama, have purchased their wars by buying expensive mercenaries that have allowed them to avoid having to conduct a draft of citizen soldiers. Ah, good ole Republican “privatization.” For eight years Americans have been able to go about their shopping and other activities as though we were a nation at peace, free to run up our credit card debt as the government throws billions of its (our) borrowings into the sands of the Middle East—money that should be spent on infrastructure, health care, and education, not bonuses and bullets. Just like Bush-Cheney, this president is not willing to involve the public in the consequences and costs of his policies. His lofty, but obtuse rhetoric is not transparency.
So we got a president that has transmogrified into the very myopic fool he replaced and, despite all his wonk-ish rationalism (really rationalization), who has failed to recognize the rather obvious maxim that when you are in a hole—even if it is a hole you inherited—you need to stop digging. When you are unable to define what constitutes “victory” it means you are rally designing a policy that will not look like a loss. And loss is what it will almost certainly be. Mercenaries will not change that outcome; “surges” won’t either. Cynically, the loss he is really worried about is his approval ratings.
Vietnam was responsible for the contradiction that you might have to “destroy a village in order to save it.” The justification then was that we were avoiding the “dominoes” of Southeast Asian communism. Ironically, the American approach in Afghanistan is that we have to buildtheir nation in order to save it. This time we justify it by raising the current enemy of “Islamo-terrorism. That approach won’t be successful either. Just as in Vietnam we will be denied “victory” because the “enemy,” if it is AQ, has already left for Pakistan, and if it is the Taliban they are already home and have nowhere else they can go. They are not fighting as paid proxies for a population that is distant, disengaged and worried that their mortgages might be foreclosed. In our naiveté we might think we can get the corrupt Karzi government/heroin distribution organization to mount an army to take our place. I’m giving good odds if you want to bet against that one. There is one thing that I think gives me the edge—the “enemy” over there don’t have draft cards, they don’t have mercenaries doing their fighting for them either, and they are all born “1-A.”
© 2009, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 12.10.2009)
*Next year you can catch it in a new reality show on Fox: Colonic Capers of the Mercenaries.
**But no, we have to wait around until our departure results in disaster. When Nixon finally decided to pull out of Vietnam we left 30,000 ARVN to get slaughtered when the North Vietnamese entered Saigon. In true American perfidy George H.W. Bush in Gulf War I let the Shiites in the south believe that we would back them on overthrowing Saddam. Then we sat back and watched Saddam slaughter 10,000 of them. We must have learned our leave taking from the British depart India.