Gates’ courageous speech emphasized the human costs to our service personnel and also the enduring challenge of bloated defense programs. The man some criticized as a bloodless bureaucrat proved to be the reverse.
Second, Americans increasingly are contracting out military responsibilities to private commercial corporations. Blackwater, renamed Xe and then Academi to deflect notoriety, has generated tremendous deserved controversy. Until recently, these heavily armed mercenaries operated largely outside the boundaries of military or civil laws.
In contrast to alienated, marginalized Americans who in earlier generations became mercenaries, for instance in the Africa wars of the 1970s, Blackwater ranks are populated with highly experienced senior U.S. military veterans. They are generally extremely highly paid.
The activities of the military contractors reach globally, well beyond Afghanistan and Iraq. The book “Corporate Warriors” by P.W Singer documents Military Professional Resources Inc., another large private security firm, part of L-3 Communications Corp. MPRI has had extensive involvement in Africa, including Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria.
While Angola involvement is generally regarded as helpful to United States foreign policy, in both Guinea and Nigeria, the company assisted highly repressive regimes. This was directly contrary to United States policies. In each case, profits came first, whether congruent with or contrary to American national interests.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the American people warned of long-term dangers to our democracy represented by the “military-industrial complex.” Ike’s insight continues to resonate ever stronger, while our ambitious politicians — and we complacent citizens — continue largely to avoid this reality.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He can be reached at email@example.com.