To Know Contractors, Know Government

What a splendid title they chose for my NYT column on the economics of Blackwater.  To start:

…whatever the possible sins of the Blackwater firm, the overall problem
is not private contracting in itself; contractors do not set the tone
but rather reflect the sins and virtues of their customers, namely
their sponsoring governments.

…War is, among other things, an economic undertaking, so the profit motive in military affairs isn’t always bad or ignoble.   

And then:

Today, America no longer has a draft, its military bureaucracy can be
inflexible and the public wishes to be insulated from the direct impact
of war. Contractors are a symptom of government weakness, but are not
the problem itself. The first Persian Gulf War, which enjoyed greater
international support, was not reliant on contractors to nearly the
same degree.

Contractors can offer many efficiencies, but:

When things are going well and the “good guys” are in control, the
flexibility and experience of military contractors can make things go
even better. But when the environment is hostile and events are
spiraling out of control, the incentives of private contractors may
lead to many mistakes.

Note that a serious issue for Blackwater –
the allegations about needless deaths of innocent civilians – has also
been an issue for United States government forces from the beginning of
the conflict.

Most of all, contractors are appealing when a
victory is possible in relatively quick order. The potential
accountability problems won’t linger for long; conversely, few
contractors will look good when a conflict runs on for years.

As they say, read the whole thing; I discuss Alex’s research as well. 


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