Last night, while eating nachos at Superior Grill, I got into a great conversation with a tourist couple from the West Coast. They, of course, had plenty of questions about our recovery, or lack thereof, but the conversation soon shifted to national issues such as outsourcing, Iraq, health care, labor unions, etc.
We got into somewhat of a dispute regarding labor unions (I am pro union) and I made the point that America has very few private industries left which actually employee tax paying citizens: Health Care, Education, Insurance....and....well, arguably Energy and Construction. He was bemoaning the fact that city, state, and federal government had become the largest employers nationwide.
I said, "Then you should be encouraged by our new emergent, private industry?"
He replied ,"What...internet porn?"
I responded, "That's funny...but no not porn...try war."
He looked a little befuddled at the response and quickly moved the conversation back to outsourcing and labor unions sensing that the conversation may tail off in a bad direction.
In Jeremy Scahill's book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, he begins the expose' with an address Donald Rumsfeld made to Pentagon employees on September 10, 2001. Rumsfeld began his speech with the following statement:
The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America. This adversary is one of the world's last bastions of central planning. It governs by dictating five-year plans. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk.
Perhaps this adversary sounds like the former Soviet Union, but that enemy is gone: our foes are more subtle and implacable today. You may think I'm describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. But their day, too, is almost past, and they cannot match the strength and size of this adversary.
The adversary's closer to home. It's the Pentagon bureaucracy. Not the people, but the processes. Not the civilians, but the systems. Not the men and women in uniform, but the uniformity of thought and action that we too often impose on them.
The next day the World Trade Center was attacked. Six years later we are mired in what seems to be a perpetual war which is being fought with a volunteer force and more importantly an unprecedented level of private contractors. According to this Washington Post report (ht Slate), there are between 20 to 30,000 private contractors currently in Iraq. There are currently about 162,000 military troops on the ground in Iraq...post-surge.
Average salary of an American soldier (counting benefits): $38,000/year
Average salary of a contractor in Iraq: $135,000/year (the same as a two-star general)
25,000 contactors @ 135k annually is nearly 4 billion dollars in salaries alone...just in Iraq....my guess is that war contracting at it's current state is at least a 20 to 30 billion dollar industry...and growing.
Look at this quote by retired Marine colonel, Jack Holly (and I believe Blackwater employee, but the article doesn't make that clear):
"When you see the number of my people who have been killed, the American public should recognize that every one of them represents an American soldier or Marine or sailor who didn't have to go in harm's way,"
According to Scahill, Blackwater has over 60,000 troops "available". The troops are primarily retired military men who are "on call" with Blackwater.
I think what we are seeing is a gradual, systematic privatization of warfare led by the U.S. with other international entities (most notably Israel and Great Britian) jumping on board. It's the creation of a new economy..."Planet Police, Inc."
I remember during the 2000 election (pre-9/11) the slogan, "We can't police the planet" was being thrown around pretty regularly...notice how you don't hear anyone saying that anymore?
We are not only intent on global military occupation...we're creating a new industry based on it....a self perpetuating economy which is fueled by conflict and global unrest.
In the same way "The War on Drugs" has become never ending because it's become more profitable to actually track and prosecute drug offenders than actually stopping the flow of drugs across our borders, the creation and allowance of conflict will become more profitable than peaceful resolution...indeed it already has.
The "War on Drugs" created a thriving and sustainable economy from trafficking to incarceration....I believe the "War on Terror" will prove even more profitable and more sustainable. I don't think it's even a question of wether or not we are striving for a permanent state of war, at this point it seems manifest. The real question is how this game is going to be played out and where the ethical lines are going to be drawn.
An example of one of those lines: recently there has been conjecture as to wether or not the country should offer illegal immigrants an opportunity at citizenship if they join the U.S. military and serve a specified amount of time.
A large portion of our military forces are already composed of young men and women from lower income brackets who are looking for a way out of their economic situation. Serving in the military is one of the few, if not the only, possible paths for many Americans to avoid a life of poverty. After their underfunded public schools have failed them, military recruiters promise them the path to a better life in return for service to their country....many chase that dangling apple. I'm not suggesting that serving in the military is a bad decision...I just think it's important to point out that many underprivileged young men and women join out of desperation as opposed to the promise of a career or loyalty to their country.
In a world where war is a commodity, the need for cheap labor will be prevalent...in the form of boots on the ground and bodies in the line of fire. There are nasty jobs in warfare which an increasingly fewer amount of Americans are willing to perform, much like the other nasty jobs in our private sector which are sustained by this country's illegal immigrant population. It's not a far stretch to imagine the MWF (Mexican Work Force) filling our military positions to gain the cherished opportunity of American citizenship. While our real military would be staffed with low to no wages....the high-paying, private, contracting jobs would be doled out to the elite. I wonder who would get put into the line of fire more often and who will get the better equipment.
The implications of this path we're on pose some rather grave threats...the most serious being the rise of private armies, better equipped, better trained, and better paid than our traditional forces...all for hire. It is the ultimate succession of unbridled capitalism...the perfect market...never-ending, perpetually expansive, thriving on the ease of chaos as opposed to the more difficult objective of order. A marketplace based on order is a losing proposition to America's insatiable quest for ever-increasing capital.
If I was the Chancellor of an American university I would start developing courses in "International Policing and Security"....I think it will be the fastest growing field in the American economy....without a labor union, mind you.