ISIS

A Private Sector Solution to Battle ISIS

Give private armies a chance.

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If the United States does not want to go to war with the Islamic State, why not let mercenaries do it? The thought has occurred to many, including Eric Prince, the founder of Blackwater (now called Academi); Simon Mann, a British special-forces veteran who successfully led a private army in Sierra Leone; Sean Rowe, a Florida Army vet who has created a group called Veterans Against Isis; and Fox News spinmeister Bill O'Reilly.

Unlike the others, O'Reilly has not proposed a truly private army. What he has in mind is a sort of irregular expeditionary force deployed under U.S. auspices. The idea has been roundly panned, for obvious reasons: It would give Washington all of the responsibility for engaging in conflict without any of the operational control.

O'Relly's critics might not realize this has been done before: Shortly before the U.S. entered WWII, FDR authorized volunteer groups of aviators to help the Chinese fight the Japanese in the second Sino-Japanese War. Still, if the U.S. government is going to wage war against ISIS, then it probably should do so with federal military forces.

The trouble is that the U.S. government does not want to. The Obama administration has sent a small number of troops to Iraq, but Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine has not been able to get his colleagues even to debate an authorization of force, let alone approve one. As a result, Americans who read news reports about the Islamic State's heinous crimes against humanity feel powerless to stop them.

Yet are they? Drawn by a sense of moral duty, some former U.S. servicemen already have joined the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, and they say many of their buddies are champing at the bit to do the same—but have been stymied by federal interference. Why interfere? Why not permit a nongovernmental army to do what the government won't?

The notion faces two kinds of challenges: one practical, the other moral. Could a mercenary force work? And would it be ethical?

The answer to the first question is yes. Granted, there are no guarantees in war. But Mann, the British SAS vet, tells the London Telegraph that "we could probably do something useful" with a force of 2,000—and he ought to know. In the 1990s he and his private company, Executive Outcomes, stopped rebel movements in Angola and Sierra Leone—"the latter," as the Telegraph puts it, "against the drug-crazed, limb-chopping rebels of the Revolutionary United Front."

A paper for the Brookings Institution reports that Mann, using a few hundred soldiers, "was able to defeat the RUF in a span of weeks. Its victory brought enough stability to allow Sierra Leone to hold its first election in over a decade. After its contract termination, however, the war was restarted. In 1999 the U.N. was sent in. Despite having a budget and personnel size nearly 20 times that of the private firm, the U.N. force took several years of operations, and a rescue by the British military, to come close to the same results."

True, raising private armies also raises questions. As the Brookings paper puts it, "military provider firms are not always looking for the most congenial workforce." Stephen Colbert, as usual, puts it more bluntly: "Only the best people kill whoever you want for cash." Private armies unconstrained by military law could commit atrocities. Indeed, given that it was not organized by any government, ISIS qualifies as a private military—albeit one motivated by religious fanaticism rather than money.

But then government armies commit plenty of atrocities themselves. Indeed, mercenary forces often are peopled by ex-servicemen, including those who have done violence on behalf of tyrannical regimes.

The other big pragmatic concern about a private army is: Who's in charge? In theory, a private military could switch sides if it were offered enough money. In practice, however, that almost never happens. Non-state armies also can get in the way of regular armies operating in the same theater. That's an issue, but not an insurmountable one.

So to the ethical question: Isn't a mercenary force immoral? Of course not. Are private security companies like Brinks immoral? Are bank security guards immoral? Private security officers have outnumbered police officers in the U.S. for decades. Like mercenaries, they threaten the use of sometimes deadly force, and they do it for money. For that matter, many of those who enlist in government armies also do so for personal gain: job training, education, having a steady paycheck. Does that make them, too, "killers for hire"?

In fact, a private military force has the potential to be more ethically pure than traditional armies, especially those that rely on conscription (i.e., slavery) and confiscatory taxation for their support. A privately financed, all-volunteer force has the virtue of consent: Nobody is forced to support it who doesn't want to. For those who do want to support it, however, doing so has never been easier. Online fundraising can enable people to make donations with a few simple clicks.

It is easy to imagine a non-state army terrorizing a populace, willfully violating the tenets of just-war theory, slaughtering civilians and looting national treasures for their own private gain. It is easy to imagine because that is just what the Islamic State has been doing. It would be poetic justice if those who desire liberty and justice for all raised a private army of their own to stop them.

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  1. The other big pragmatic concern about a private army is: Who’s in charge? In theory, a private military could switch sides if it were offered enough money. In practice, however, that almost never happens.

    Uh, how many private armies are there in the world today?

    1. Well, there’s Oliver’s Army, the Wild Geese, Dick Armey, the Army of the Night…

      1. What about Old Navy?

        1. Well, TBF, ISIS doesn’t have much of a maritime branch – they obviously haven’t read Alfred Thayer Mann.

          1. *Mahan, and yeah. They don’t understand the influence of sea power on history.

            Betcha Britain does.

        2. Those guys who show up every Christmas asking for money…

      2. John Oliver has an army?

        1. Not sure if joking or if you’re just too young:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVBrcFOJVdY

          1. Never seen that music video. Costello used to be so fucking cool.

    2. There’s also these guys.

    3. Well at the Pennsic and Estrella wars the SCA can often field 2 private armies with more than 5000 men at arms on each side

    4. Uh, how many private armies are there in the world today?

      You mean, besides ISIS?

  2. To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

    /an ancient text that no one cares about

    1. But that text implies that private citizens can have crew-served weapons, and that is ungoodthinkful.

  3. If you want the private sector wreaking destruction in the lieu of government intervention, send Walmart over to take away their collective bargaining rights. I’m told that’s corporate devastation at its worst.

    1. I say go straight to the top. Enlist the dark forces of the Koch Brothers and Citizens United (the unholy advocacy corporation, not the SCOTUS decision).

  4. My question was not “Who’s in charge?” but “Who’s footing the bill?”

      1. I believe there was some (small) contingent of the US population that supported the invasion of Iraq for this reason.

    1. I posted a bit on this before, theorizing, but I think there are many ways to pay. First, there’s definitely a business interest, both existing ones in Kurdistan-Iraq e.g.
      1st International Fashion Show in Kurdistan

      Welcome to Majidi Mall, Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq

      and potential future business in all sorts of sectors–retail, mineral, oil & gas, commercial services, private security services, etc. who want to move in and locals would be part of that interest too. Financiers could issue bonds, or could offer REITs or shares in businesses internationally. It would be attractive for those who can stomach risk and want to get in before any place actually develops. And it would be self-reinforcing as the more investment and interest, the more incentive there is for the security of the region.

      1. But a big barrier to all of this are US and international regulations. For example ITAR. No government wants a free international market in arms.

        btw, Aegis (PMC, security) is hiring: http://www.aegisworld.us/careers/
        example of positions related to this issue:

        Position: Armed Security Guard
        Location: Kandahar, Afghanistan

        Position: Armorer
        Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

        Position: Deputy Project Manager ? Operations (DPMO)
        Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

        Position: Deputy Project Manager Facilities and Support
        Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

        Position: Emergency Medical Technician – Advanced
        Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

        Position: FAV/LAV Armor Vehicle Technician
        Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

        Position: Force Protection Officer 1
        Location: Camp Arifjan Kuwait

        Position: Force Protection Officer 2
        Location: Camp Arifjan Kuwait

        Position: Protective Security Specialist/Designated Defensive Marksman
        Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

        Position: Protective Security Specialist/Firearms Instructor
        Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

        Position: Range Master/Firearms Instructor
        Location: Kabul, Afghanistan

    2. I assumet his will be partially crowd funded.

      “We cannot take this city until we raise another $12,000, so please donate right away!”

      “For a donation of $300, send you a turban taken from the head of one of the bastards we killed. For another $300, we’ll sign it, too!”

      “For a donation of $1,000 or more we will hold a video conference with your child’s birthday!”

      “For $5,000 we will send you a copy of three of our troops’ helmet cams, so you can experience the war just as they saw it!

      “We have hundreds of soldiers with in-force life insurance policies. We will gladly sell them to you for a fraction of their total death benefit!”

      Not to mention merchandising — who wouldn’t want a video game of ACTUAL battles, helmets signed by the troops, etc?

      Also, I know there will be gambling. How many troops will die in this conflict or that one, how many bullets used, etc. They could support themselves in a big way if they tried. Mildly sick, I know, but I am confident in this ability to make money.

    3. Who’s gonna foot the bill?

      Your grandkids. Just like with everything else.

  5. What happens when half of your sellswords abandon you because you’re a dick and a sadistic bastard child burns your provisions and kills your horses? What then, private armies?

    1. This is a case in favor of private armies, since they will abandon people who don’t deserve following at a different threshold from the ideologically motivated.

    2. What happens if that was just a ruse to lure the army out of Winterfell – while the other half is taking the castle?

  6. Great idea. Good to see Reason come up with something interesting in foreign policy. Binkle neglected to mention the role mercs are playing in rolling back Boko Haram in Nigeria. They should also be used in anti-piracy security.

    1. Yeah you right! Also, I have a 23′ Grady White, if anyone want’s to spring for the fuel and provide a few dozen RPGs and a couple of Ma Deuces (also, some BARs and Mossberg 500 Mariners for boarding actions), I’m game.

      1. Might want to up armor that Grady before you get too froggy. An antagonist Ma Deuce would hole that thing like a pallet of eggs… Nice fishing boats tho.

    2. We look forward to seeing you join up with the private Canadian warmonger battalion. Don’t forget to write us from the dusty deserts of Syria.

      1. You’ll be looking forward forever. My place is in the lab.

        1. You’ve set yourself up nicely for a dissection joke.

          1. Or vivisection. Not that I should be giving you guys ideas.

            1. We don’t do vivisection. We’ll take you out back and shoot you before feeding the woodchipper.

              1. Now you’re going to have State after you.

                1. I bet he’s on a list now.

  7. Have the government issue letters of marque and the private army would be under their jurisdiction.

  8. The history of Mercenary Companies is not, on the whole, good. They tend to get out of control and pursue their own agendas. It costs a good deal to get them to fight and (with a nod to the late Sir Terry Pratchett) a great deal more to get them to stop. The military is one place where government inefficiency works in the favor of the citizenry.

    1. Um, you are making a very common mistake of assuming that things would work the same today as they did in the past.

      Mercenary armies have not been common place for over 200 years and a lot has changed in the world since then.

      Just because Mercenary armies of the past were difficult to control does not mean they will be today as there are FAR more mechanisms in place that would compel them to act in more professional manners not the least of which is a world that would be perfectly happy to go after any mercs that got out of line with war crime tribunals

      1. There’s always the confused history of Thomas Michael “Mike” Hoar to refer to. And I have the vague impression that Hoar was not the only idiot working around the edges of various post-colonial messes and making them worse. The Expendables is a fairy tale; amusing in its way, but having about as much connection to reality as a Clint Eastwood western. To be effective a corporate military (and it would have to incorporate) would need a very expensive supply chain, and modern equipment at least at the level of the WWII allies. Not cheap. All well and good while their CIA handlers are happy, but what do they do with all that specialized equipment and expertise when the nitwits in Congress decide we should stop? They go looking for other funding. Oops.

        I really can’t even BEGIN to encompass how absolutely awful an idea this is.

        1. Worked out well in Sierre Leon and Nigeria.

          1. Did you forget the sarcasm tag? I hope?

            The use of mercenaries and other forces with little loyalty to, or even connection with, the local culture has been a substantial part of the festering sore that is African Post-Colonialism.

            Really, it doesn’t take many decades of ugly brush wars, genocidal tribal conflicts, famine as a tool of statecraft, and general kleptocracy to make old fashioned colonial paternalism look pretty goddamned good.

            Or, at least, the British, American, and French variety. The Dutch, Spanish, and Belgians? I doubt anyone who was simply glancing at the countries then and now would be able to tell the difference.

            1. No I didn’t forget a sarcasm tag and my statement still stands regardless of your bloviating.

              I see no reason mercs were a primary underlying reason for the mess in Africa. “Loyalty” and “connection to” the local culture hasn’t stopped people from killing each other in oodles over there.

              1. I didn’t say they were the underlyng reason. I said they made a bad situation worse. I’ll grant I’m not an expert on the area and period; I find it too depressing, and I have enough of that closer to home. If I’m wromg, I’m wrong. I still think a mercenary army, with modern equipment and sufficient financing to accomplish anything worthwhile would be liekly to conquor and keep, rather than anything else.

                Of course, that might be an improvement.

                I suggest you read Fred Reed on his days writing for Soldier Of Fortune (last I looked the piece was still on the Fred On Everything website). Not so much that it bolsters my point, but because it is an interesting view of the SOF phenominon.

    2. Don’t tell that to the guys who got drafted.

  9. Can we not just rent elements of the L?gion ?trang?re from the French?

  10. Yeah, I’m sure the rest of the world will really love that idea.

    On another cheery note, it looks like Egypt’s Attorney General Hisham Barakat just got assassinated, almost certainly by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    “Arab Spring” baby. Ain’t it great?

    1. “Arab Springu Akbar!”

      How long until the Pyramids are blown up as un-Islamic?

    2. I’m not going to mourn for someone who was a key part of an oppressive regime, even a secular one. The Arab Spring has certainly worked out great for Tunisia and to a lesser extent Algeria and Morocco. It will, eventually, be good for the whole region.

      1. I’m sure these 39 people found the Arab Spring to have been a peachy influence and progressive change for Tunisia.

        1. How the fuck is that a consequence of the Arab Spring? Could you possibly make a more asinine linkage?

            1. None. I’d like some serious reasoning and logic but I can see that’s not in your Ken.

              1. It’s looking like dictatorship rather than “democracy” is more effective in promoting justice within the framework of cultures whose underlying moral assumptions and proscriptions are barbaric if not outright evil. Secularists are almost invariably more limited in their scope when committing themselves to tyranny.

                1. May I take it, then, that you do not include Communists in the catagory “Secularists”?

                  I mean, I think of them as a moderately bloodthirsty religion, myself, but I’m used to people being shocked by the notion.

                  1. May I take it, then, that you do not include Communists in the catagory “Secularists”?

                    State atheists are decidedly un-secular. They aren’t simply taking an agnostic policy approach to religion, they actively suppress the culturally affiliated religions and promote the state itself as a religion with a deified figure out in front. Marxism isn’t the gold standard of tyranny.

                  2. May I take it, then, that you do not include Communists in the catagory “Secularists”?

                    State atheists are decidedly un-secular. They aren’t simply taking an agnostic policy approach to religion, they actively suppress the culturally affiliated religions and promote the state itself as a religion with a deified figure out in front. Marxism isn’t the gold standard of tyranny.

                  3. May I take it, then, that you do not include Communists in the catagory “Secularists”?

                    State atheists are decidedly un-secular. They aren’t simply taking an agnostic policy approach to religion, they actively suppress the culturally affiliated religions and promote the state itself as a religion with a deified figure out in front. Marxism isn’t the gold standard of tyranny.

      2. Wow, so you’re still a believer in this fantasy that Jeffersonian democracy is going to take root in the middle east?

        Talk about a true dead-ender. Even the original neocons don’t believe this claptrap any longer.

        1. *Strawman down*

  11. 2020 A.D.
    “The forces of Microsoft Munitions will be attacking the Apple Aggressions battalion today in the 14th battle of the Windows/Mac battle of 2018. Expected losses will be estimated at 67% for Apple’s forces compared to 39% for Microsoft’s. Legal Advocate Generals for both sides are pessimistic of this conflict reaching a conclusion in the near future. Meanwhile both stocks have steadily increased due to new product innovations like the Bill Gates Blaster Gun, Apple personal Atom bomb case, Windows Personnel Deleter, Apple War Cart, & the ever popular IGUN.

    1. I have to assume the Apple Army will be mostly hipsters.

      1. True. On the other hand, if the forces of Microsoft Munitions are armed with their own product, their guns will jam.

        1. This coulda been funnier. Something about their jeep crashing for no good reason.

        2. Oh no what will happen is that everyone in MM will be scrambling for the older equipment because the new equipment is designed idiotically and no one can figure it outl.

        3. This post suggested privately funded terrorist activities. You’ve made the lists.

      2. Who forgot to turn off their ringtone before they tried to sneak up on the Microsoft guys… it was a slaughter. Blood, guts and shattered iPhones mixed in with trendy camo.

  12. Also, please recognize that the Flying Tigers were some of the baddest dudes in the whole Great War. They hold some amazing records, and, if you aren’t familiar with them, you should be. Some of them became amazing people.

  13. “War – What isn’t it good for?”
    now available on itunes

  14. “War – What isn’t it good for?”
    now available on itunes

  15. And…the gift that keeps on giving- the Squirrel Gun. Available with or without cage(nut ammo not sold separately)

  16. Yeah that’s the ticket for foreign policy. Let’s just prove beyond all doubt that we are in late-stage decadence and rotten/lazy to the core. Nothing bad could possibly come of it.

    Yeesh.

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  18. I think Eeben Barlow would take issue with the assertion that Simon Mann led that private army in Sierra Leone.

    One of the reasons that Executive Outcomes was successful (and STTEP in Nigeria) is that they had the backing of the government at the time. Pretty sure that ain’t happening this time.

  19. Um, am I missing something? Isn’t ISIS already a mercenary army themselves? They were created by the US, trained as “moderates” in Syria by the US, supplied arms by the US (ooops, we “accidentally” provided them with huge amounts of weapons), and funded $$ by the US (see smiling John McCain pics with “moderate” fighters).
    Why then is this a story and a discussion board talking about ISIS as if it is actually a legitimate enemy that we have any interest in actually destroying? Did I accidentally stumble into the PNAC chat board?

    1. No not really. They were on the bottom of the Order of Battle. It was the guys who we kicked out of power who trained them. Given that the tribes in Iraq have nothing to fight for in the larger scheme of things, and that the disgraced and humiliated Sunni’s want to shame the US and that new empires comes from these types of groups (many, many, many foreigners are joining ISIS daily, they pose a long term threat. Of course they have three other Arab powers to contend with so nothing is certain.

  20. You went right by the easy answer Bart. We could just quit funding regime change and “moderate” terrorists.

  21. Decent article. Covers much in such a short read. Thanks

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  24. well, there does seem to be one more potential concern:

    what does the private army do when it wins? become the government? seize oil fields and declare a new state?

    become local bandits?

    historically, a private army does not just go away when it wins.

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