War for Hire


Mark Hemingway has a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard on Blackwater, the nation's largest don't-call-us-mercenaries security firm.

I wasn't really sure where I stood on the privatization of much of the military before I read the article, and I'm not where I stand after having read it. It is very interesting, though, and it's pretty clear there's a major transition going on. Consider this graph:

In the first Gulf war, the ratio of private contractors to military personnel was one to sixty. This time it's approaching one to one. The Washington Post last week reported that the Pentagon counts about 100,000 contractors in Iraq. Private contractors are being used to supply everything from pizzas to porta-potties; still the decidedly larger ratio is no doubt the result of the 20,000 or so serving in a quasi-military role–almost three times the number of British military forces currently in Iraq.

What to make of this? On the one hand, I suppose that if we're going to be getting our war on, the private sector's going to do lots of things better than the military bureaucracy does. On the other, even the most ardent free marketeer in me is revolted at the thought of attaching profit to war. I can't see many net positives in the fact that there's a growing industry that thrives not just on government contracts, but that's especially profitable when we're warring with another country.