A critique of the United States’ fateful turn toward private military and security contractors as a consequence of the Iraq War.
Former Wall Street Journal writer Hagedorn (Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919, 2007, etc.) deftly handles a complex and sometimes-grisly topic, beginning with the first “friendly fire” incident involving contractors firing on U.S. troops. “The quest to privatize defense and security has empowered companies that are now moving beyond their roles in Iraq and Afghanistan,” writes the author. She portrays this trend as worrisome on many levels, emphasizing that these firms lack transparency, civic accountability and a motivation to see conflicts reach an end. Some of the firms she examines are well-known in this context, like the British Aegis and the notorious Blackwater, now known as Academi. The author discusses the Nisour Square shooting in which Blackwater contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians, raising rare criticism of their presence. Hagedorn notes that the military effectively handed off PMSC oversight to the State Department to support claims of a drawdown in both countries, while both the Bush and Obama administrations have similarly allowed these companies free reign. Indeed, to support the Iraq withdrawal, Obama “had made possible an expansion in the number of [PMSCs].” As Hagedorn observes throughout, the slick, humorless principals she interviews clearly prefer being seen as indispensable professionals rather than as mercenaries. The author effectively digs beneath the PMSCs’ corporate spin to unearth numerous examples of fiscal waste, incompetence and inappropriate uses of force. In an increasingly pessimistic narrative, Hagedorn concludes that PMSCs have managed to become inextricable from the national security state and that despite movement into domestic police training and border security, “PMSCs remained nearly invisible to the American public.”
A brisk, disturbing account that adds to the sense that liberties taken in the war on terror have created long-term liabilities for American society.