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Such firms are frequently described as “private security” or “bodyguards,” but they are a far cry from rent-a-cops at a local mall, or bodyguards for Hollywood celebrities.They use military training and weaponry to carry out mission-critical functions that would have been done by soldiers in the past, in the midst of a combat zone against fellow combatants.Halliburton’s Kellogg, Brown and Root division, recently spun off into its own firm, currently runs the logistics backbone of the force, doing everything from running military mess halls to moving fuel and ammunition.Other firms are helping to train local forces, including the new Iraqi army and national police.If the gradual death toll among American troops threatened to slowly wear down public support, contractor casualties were not counted in official death tolls and had no impact on these ratings.By one count, as of July 2007, more than 1,000 contractors have been killed in Iraq, and another 13,000 wounded. Hence, while private losses were just the “cost of doing business” for a firm in Iraq, they actually had an undisguised advantage to policymakers.That debate over the ultimate costs of Iraq is one for historians to weigh now.What is clear, however, is that the enabling effect of the military contractor industry is not simply in allowing the operation to occur, but also in how it reinforces our worst tendencies in war.

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It is sometimes easier to understand this concept by looking at the issue in reverse. However, this would have involved publicly admitting that those involved in the planning — particularly then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — were wrong in their slam of critics like Army Gen.Contrary to conspiracy theories, the private military industry is not the so-called decider, plotting out wars behind the scenes like Manchurian Global.But it has become the ultimate enabler, allowing operations to happen that might otherwise be politically impossible. Rather, it is that each of them was considered politically undesirable.(That it turned out to be such a perfectly round figure indicated that the estimate was actually what researchers call a “WAG,” short for “wild ass guess.”) In 2007, an internal Department of Defense census on the industry found almost 160,000 private contractors were employed in Iraq (roughly equal to the total U. What matters is not merely the numbers, but the roles that private military contractors play. They even helped operate combat systems such as the Army’s Patriot missile batteries and the Navy’s Aegis missile-defense system.Private military firms — ranging from well-established companies, such as Vinnell and MPRI, to start-ups, such as the British Aegis — have played an even greater role in the post-invasion occupation.Plus, the generals could avoid the career risk of asking for more troops.That is, there was no outcry whenever contractors were called up and deployed, or even killed.Some proposed persuading other allies to send their troops in to help spread the burden, much as NATO allies and other interested members of the U. This was the war that “was going to pay for itself,” as leaders like then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz infamously described in the run-up to the invasion, and to share in the operation was to share in the spoils. The private military industry was an answer to these political problems that had not existed in the past.Plus, much of the world was vehemently opposed to the war, so it was unlikely that NATO allies or the U. It offered the potential backstop of additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital.Another option would have been a full-scale call-up of the National Guard and Reserves, as originally envisioned for such major wars in the Abrams Doctrine.However, to do so would have prompted massive outcry among the public (as now the war’s effect would have been felt deeper at home) — the last thing leaders in the executive branch or Congress wanted as they headed into what was a tight 2004 election season. However, this would have involved tough compromises, such as granting U. or NATO command of the forces in Iraq or delaying the invasion, options in which the administration simply had no interest.

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