On War #55

The Withering Away Of The State, Continued

By William S. Lind

Many years ago, old Uncle Karl foresaw a "withering away of the state" as a prelude to the inauguration of international communism. As history turned out, communism died before the state did. But the state is withering away, as a most interesting development in Iraq demonstrates. Like many aspects of fourth generation war, this development is not something new, but something old, from the time before the state's monopoly on war:  mercenaries.

My hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, recently dispatched its Friday!Magazine editor, Chuck Yarborough, on an extended journey through Iraq. Friday!Magazine normally reports on plays, movies, restaurants and other entertainment, so Mr. Yarborough's stories reflect a fresh view of that vastly entertaining subject, war. I will leave it to others to speculate as to whether Cleveland is so dull on a Friday night that even Iraq is an improvement ("Would you like those pirogues with or without accordion music?").

In his February 9th story, Yarborough describes Iraq as "a dirty, nasty countryside that looks like the tide just went out on the River Styx...Each time we ground to a stop - as we did often - our South African personal security detachment (PSD, as it is called here) went on high alert...Task Force Shield commander Col. Tom O'Donnell, fresh off 10 days in the United States briefing National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice's deputy on the progress of providing security for the Iraqi oil pipeline, and I rode in the back seat... Trailing us in an unarmored Jeep were the rest of the Erinys Co. team assigned to protect O'Donnell."

So U.S. Army colonels now have mercs, not American soldiers, providing their security. "That's very interesting," as John Boyd liked to say. A front-page story in the February 18 Washington Post adds more:

Attacks on the private contractors rebuilding Iraq are boosting security expenses, cutting into reconstruction funds and compelling U.S. officials in Baghdad to contend with growing legions of private, armed security teams spread throughout the country... U.S. and coalition military forces, which are being trimmed and face continuing attacks, cannot provide contractor protection, and neither can fledgling Iraqi forces... leaving private teams as the main protection for contractors... Major security contractors (in Iraq) estimated in interviews that at least 40 private security companies and several thousand armed guards already are working in the country.

So while at the micro level an American Army colonel has a merc security detail, at the macro level mercenaries are filling the gap between American military forces engulfed in their own war and the security units of Iraq's Vichy regime, most of which are less than keen to fight.

What does the return of mercenaries on a large scale, in a theatre of war, tell us? It tells us that state militaries have become so bureaucratic, expensive, and top-heavy that they are losing the ability to fight.

William S. Lind is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation

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