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Review: Examining the privatization of American warfare Print
WHATEVER ELSE the Iraq War may be remembered for, it has already achieved one unique distinction: It is America’s first outsourced war.

On a scale never before seen in the nation’s history, the Iraq enterprise has been turned over to private contractors. There are more of them in the battle zone than there are U.S. troops. Many of them – tens of thousands – carry guns and fulfill functions that are indistinguishable from jobs once done by soldiers.

And yet they  operate under different rules. Steve Fainaru calls them “Big Boy Rules,” which he defines as an unwritten code that the contractors make up as they go along. No rules at all, really – a lawless void in which a motley, anonymous private army does whatever it wants.

Fainaru, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, has written a valuable addition to the small but growing body of books on the privatization of warfare. His book is a gritty, ground-level examination of how the lines of accountability become blurred when a nation farms out an unpopular war to hired hands.

In 2006 Fainaru embedded   with a group of contractors  for Crescent Security Group, a Kuwait-based company, traveling with them on convoys around Iraq, dodging roadside bombs and insurgent attacks. Just days after he left to come home, five of those men were kidnapped in broad daylight while escorting a convoy along Iraq’s main highway. A year and a half later, they turned up dead. Fainaru’s account of his time with  Crescent  and his reconstruction of the kidnapping and its grisly aftermath form the heart of the book. The story takes some detours. Sections dealing with the death of the author’s father and the legal troubles of his brother, a fellow journalist, are needless distractions.

Still, Fainaru poses a host of compelling questions, among them the question of motivation. What drives these private warriors to  place themselves in such danger? The answer is complex: Some are patriotic, some desperate; some simply need the adrenaline rush to feel fully alive.

But when everything else is stripped away, Fainaru writes, it’s about the money.

The central character of the book, an ex-soldier named Jon Coté, was earning $1,967.70 a month when he left the Army as a sergeant. When he returned to Iraq as a Crescent contractor, he was pulling down $7,000 a month, the same as a one-star general. Throughout the book, Fainaru refers to armed contractors as mercenaries, or “mercs.” Though company executives and their spokesmen shun it, he says, the term perfectly describes the men they place in the battle zone: people who fight other people’s wars for money.

Here is how Fainaru tersely sums up the arc of the Iraq War: “A government launches a preemptive war predicated on a myth. Insurgents rise up to confront the occupiers. Lacking a sufficient fighting force, not to mention political will, the government rents itself a private army.”

In a democracy, such a scenario raises profound issues of accountability and moral responsibility. Those issues are never of greater moment than in the case of Blackwater Worldwide.

Fainaru devotes a full chapter to Moyock, N.C.-based Blackwater, one of the largest security companies, which has earned more than $1 billion guarding U.S. diplomatic personnel in Iraq. He traces a series of incidents in which Blackwater contractors killed or injured Iraqis who ventured too close to their convoys, culminating in the infamous Nisoor Square shooting in September 2007 in which 17 Iraqi civilians died.

Fainaru portrays Blackwater as an out-of-control private militia that operates with total impunity under the protection of its client, the State Department.

Since Fainaru’s book was published, a federal grand jury has indicted six Blackwater contractors on manslaughter charges springing from the Nisoor Square incident. It is the first time since the Iraq invasion in 2003 that any contractors have faced charges for criminal acts against Iraqis.

That case will provide a key test of whether the private army so ably chronicled by Fainaru is, in fact, subject to any rules.
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