An Army of One to Three Billion Dollars

It used to be we complained about the U.S. military trying to do AID and the State Department’s job in Iraq. Now, it seems, the State Department wants to do the military’s job in Iraq.

While the U.S. military draws down in Iraq, next year the State Department is boosting its own army of private military contractors from 2,700 strong to a force of around 5,500. This build-up is “one of the most complex and dangerous endeavors the State Department has ever undertaken,” says Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room. Yet despite the gravity of this new mission, significant details about how State plans to regulate, monitor, and hold its contractors accountable remain shrouded in secret. State isn’t even allowing the federal agency that audits Iraq reconstruction spending to conduct the oversight it’s created by law to do, Ackerman reports.

That’s yours truly writing over at UN Dispatch. Of course, the best bit about what kind of force $3 billion buys is from Spencer’s piece:

…even though there’s been a nearly 90 percent drop in violence since the surge, State’s hired army still acts like Iraq is a killing field, with death squads and insurgents around every corner.

“Have the standards for convoy travel changed at all from the worst moments of Iraq civil war? The answer’s no,” Bowen [the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction] says. Diplomats are allowed an hour for meetings outside secured U.S. fortresses. Then it’s time to hit the road, in armored cars full of men armed to the teeth and wearing black sunglasses

Could we buy DVDs of The A-Team for $20 and let the contractors live out their fantasies that way instead? Meanwhile, diplomats who control the purse strings on meager multi-million dollar grants won’t actually get out to the provinces and see the work local and international NGOs are doing in an increasingly hospitable operational environment.

But, of course, Congress has found a way to stop this exorbitant spending on private military contractors–but potentially shutting down the entire government.