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Who Slipped Koppel a Mickey?

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on May 22nd, 2006

OK, I have to start just assuming that ted Koppel, once the lovably goofy nerd who dared ask the really boring but important questions of the day on national television (although at a time almost no one was still awake), is simply goading us on. He cannot possibly believe that his modest proposal in today's New York Times op-ed is actually in any way a good idea. He of all people should recognize that he left out all the really important questions, and they aren't even the boring ones!

Koppel argues that perhaps the answer to our over-extended military force trying to fight multiple wars and assist in multiple humanitarian efforts is to call upon private security contractors to do the heavy lifting.

Koppel caught the wonk virus: he sees the whole issue in terms of political expedience and/or fallout. Never mind the causes of the problems he seeks to address with mercenaries; never mind the morality (indeed, patriotism) of paying others to fight and die for your causes.

The draft is unpopular! The military is overextended! Answer: Blackwater!

Holy bejeezus. Hang on there, pilgrim.

First of all, perhaps if we had not declared war on an unidentifiable and undefeatable enemy ("terrorism"), we might not be quite so over-extended. Perhaps if we had provided enough troops in the first place to secure the peace after the fall of Saddam Hussein, we would not now be so over-extended. Ah, but that is another argument for another day.

Koppel's list of "factors" that make a rent-a-military a good idea includes some real chokers:

" The unwillingness or inability of the United Nations or other multinational organizations to dispatch adequate forces to deal quickly with hideaous, large-scale atrocities"

Ted, what about the United States' unwillingness and inability to do the very same? We lecture the UN and NATO about not doing enough, and yet we commit not one soldier to the effort. We've got no room to throw shame around on that one. But again, another argument, another day.

" The expansion of American corporations into more remote, fractious, and potentially hostile settings."

Ahem. Since when has it been the American soldiers job to die for corporations? Since when do we go to war expressly for the purpose of defending corporate interests abroad? We do, of course, but even George W. Bush has the decency to tell us it's for "freedom."

Koppel goes on to argue that perhaps our future is one of thousands of bands of roving, hired mercenaries, each defending the interests of its benefactor - be it a corporation or a nation.

Of course, Koppel must know that this already happens every day. Shell "allowed" the Nigerian military to execute the activists who were making it difficult to keep drilling for and pumping out oil from Ogoni native lands. Freeport McMoRan was just exposed for having made illegal payments to the Indonesian military (which has murdered thousands of civilians) to protect its interests in the region. Multinational companies operating all over the world hire private contractors to "protect their interests," which, according to reliable sources, sometimes amounts to killing whoever gets in the way of maximum profit.

And let us remember, before we embrace private contractors to fight our national battles, that it was a private security contractor - Jack Idema - who set up a private jail in Kabul and tortured hundreds of innocent civilians because he thought they looked like terrorists. Let us not forget that Halliburton, Custer Battles, and other private contractors hired to "support" our military efforts have in fact overcharged or outright defrauded the very government they supposedly serve. Blackwater last year was embarrassed by the revelation of an internal memo which described shooting people as "fun."

Can you imagine, though, the Koppelian future Ted has proposed? A stateless world where private contractors maintain private armies for multinational corporations, not countries. Spooky.Thousands of angry little bands of mercenaries crawling the globe, each answering to a different wealthy benefactor, each with a different objective, none subject to the Geneva Convention, bound only to shareholders? There are simply no enforceable standards of accountability in this privatized future. There is certainly no room for morality.

Tell me you're floating a little trial balloon here, Ted, to watch our heads explode. Tell us you're playing devil's advocate. But most of all, please tell us you're not serious.