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Michael Winship: The Privatization of Obama's War

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

''The Privatization of Obama's War''
By Michael Winship

The sudden reappearance of former Vice President Dick Cheney over the last few months – seeming to emerge from his famous undisclosed location more frequently now than he ever did when he was in office – does not mean six more weeks of winter. But it does bring to mind that classic country and western song, “How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?”

Or, maybe, “If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Someone Who Will.”

In his self-appointed role as voice of the opposition, Mr. Cheney has been playing Nostradamus, gloomily predicting doom if the Obama White House continues to set aside Bush administration policy, setting the stage for recrimination and finger-pointing should there be another terrorist attack on America.

Cheney’s grouchy legacy is the gift that keeps on giving. Just this week, THE WASHINGTON POST reported for the first time that while vice president, Cheney oversaw “at least” four of those briefings given to senior members of Congress about enhanced interrogation techniques; “part of a secretive and forceful defense he mounted throughout 2005 in an effort to maintain support for the harsh techniques used on detainees…

“An official who witnessed one of Cheney’s briefing sessions with lawmakers said the vice president’s presence appeared to be calculated to give additional heft to the CIA’s case for maintaining the program.”

And remember Halliburton, the international energy services company of which Cheney used to be the CEO? After the fall of Baghdad, Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR were the happy recipients of billions of dollars in outside contracts to take care of the military and rebuild Iraq’s petroleum industry. Waste, shoddy workmanship (like faulty wiring that caused fatal electric shocks) and corruption ran wild, Pentagon investigators allege, even as Vice President Cheney was still receiving deferred compensation and stock options.

Reporting for, Pratap Chatterjee, author of the book, HALLIBURTON’S ARMY, writes, “In early May, at a hearing on Capitol Hill, DCAA [Defense Contract Audit Agency] director April G. Stephenson told the independent, bipartisan, congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan that, since 2004, her staff had sent 32 cases of suspected overbilling, bribery and other possible violations of the law to the Pentagon inspector general. The ‘vast majority’ of these cases, she testified, were linked to KBR, which accounts for a staggering 43 percent of the dollars the Pentagon has spent in Iraq.”

In one instance, KBR was charging an average $38,000 apiece for “prefabricated living units” on bases in Iraq; another contractor offered to provide them for $18,000. But of a questionable $553 million in payments to KBR that the DCCA blocked or suspended, the Pentagon has gone ahead and agreed to pay $439 million, accepting KBR’s explanations.

KBR, Halliburton and the private security firm Blackwater have come to symbolize the excesses of outsourcing warfare. So you’d think that with a new sheriff like Barack Obama in town, such practices would be on the “Things Not to Do” list. Not so.

According to new Pentagon statistics, in the second quarter of this year, there has been a 23% increase in the number of private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Iraq and a 29% hike in Afghanistan. In fact, outside contractors now make up approximately half of our forces fighting in the two countries. “This means,” according to Jeremy Scahill, author of the book, BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY, “there are a whopping 242,647 contractors working on these two U.S. wars.”

Scahill, who runs an excellent new website called “Rebel Reports,” spoke with my colleague Bill Moyers on the current edition of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL on PBS. “What we have seen happen, as a result of this incredible reliance on private military contractors, is that the United States has created a new system for waging war,” he said. By hiring foreign nationals as mercenaries, “You turn the entire world into your recruiting ground. You intricately link corporate profits to an escalation of warfare and make it profitable for companies to participate in your wars.

“In the process of doing that you undermine US democratic policies. And you also violate the sovereignty of other nations, because you're making their citizens combatants in a war to which their country is not a party.

“I feel that the end game of all of this could well be the disintegration of the nation-state apparatus in the world. And it could be replaced by a scenario where you have corporations with their own private armies. To me, that would be a devastating development. But it's happening on a micro level. And I fear it will start to happen on a much bigger scale.”

Jeremy Scahill’s comments come just as Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, the man slated to be the new commander of our troops in Afghanistan says the cost of our strategy there is going to cost America and its NATO allies billions of additional dollars for years to come. In fact, according to budget documents released by the Pentagon last month, as of next year, the cost of the war in Afghanistan – more and more known as “Obama’s War” – will exceed the cost of the war in Iraq.

The President asserted in his Cairo speech on Thursday that he has no desire to keep troops or establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. But according to Jeremy Scahill, “I think what we're seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world,” he told Moyers, “but the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era.”

Maybe that’s one more reason Dick Cheney, private contractor emeritus, won’t go away.


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I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

Dear Mr. President, of a military prostitute employment agency who has totally saved the UN. Maybe you demanded too much personal information about other posters. Maybe you would send a helper to their house. Maybe you expect free advertising so the highest bidder can find you. (There is another botthole linking to his health insurance fraud while making "concerned" posts, so it wouldn't be unusual.) What business is you in, Jack?

P.S. Mike Winship keeps his hands clean by not touching the machinery. He is in early and out late writing copy for Uncle Bill's teleprompter. WNET is a big complex place with conflicting agendas. Moderators reserve many rights... depending...

Mr. Martin,

Thank you for your thoughts and the personal attacks; always much appreciated.

I'm very glad you found the IPOA web site of interest. We have a good bit of history there and also in our Journal of International Peace Operations (JIPO) which you and others may find of interest. In an era where the West has largely abrogated any responsibility for supporting international peace operations with personnel from their own countries, IPOA was set up to ensure that peacekeeping received adequate support services from the private sector to actually succeed, even without the West.

I was an academic when I co-founded the organization, but in doing research on my dissertation (I'm ABD) it was very clear that, in the glaring absence of the West, the private sector has been holding UN peace operations together for some time.

IPOA's original focus was supporting UN and AU efforts in Africa (and Haiti), but after 9-11 our member companies went to Afghanistan and later Iraq to support operations in those countries. Ultimately, it is not the role of the private sector to make international policies or decide where international interventions should take place. It *is* the our role to help ensuring such policies are more successful.

My phone number and email address are on the web site, feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. IPOA is a trade association; member company dues largely cover our costs, but funding comes from JIPO advertising and conferences as well.

I don't know too much about Mr. Scahill visiting war zones. He's been to the Nigerian delta with 'Democracy Now,' was in Iraq between the wars (not during the war as far as I know), New Orleans after Katrina (where he borrowed heavily from some other progressive journalists) and Serbia in apparent solidarity with their ruthless dictatorship against NATO.

Funny enough, I didn't see him in Baghdad or Kabul when I was there, or in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Croatia, Burma, Kashmir, Sierra Leone, Sudan or Sri Lanka. Maybe he just hangs out at the tourist bars so I would have missed him.

I hope that is informative and helpful. Now, may I ask your background?

Best regards,

Doug Brooks, President, IPOA

Mr. Winship,

Would you be kind enough to take a gander and see what is preventing the posting of my last response?

Many thanks in advance!


Technical question: did my last post in answer to Mr. Martin make it through?
-doug brooks

CH: "Abortion is a completely different issue. Don't hijack the comments section for your particular cause. Of course abortion deserves further discussion, but not in the comments section of this particular post."
Unfortunately, Mr. Moyers never talks about it in detail on the Journal. The mentioning of torture is as close as he gets (Abortion and torture are both intrinsic evils.)

Grady Lee Howard: "You really get off on that tearing limb from limb, sucking brains out, salt poisoning and burning stuff, don't ya?"
Comparing quotes to (to someone against) Torture:
You really get off on that simulation of drowning, humiliation, and crimes against humanity stuff, don't ya?

"How about getting your head out of other people's uteruses."
How about getting your hands out of the CIA's (etc) interrogation rooms.

"Most abortions are performed when the fetus is at the complexity of an insect and potential is better left unexplored for those who would live in material and emotional deprivation."
Most torture is performed when the enemy combatant (not protected by the Geneva convention) is a foreigner and his freedom is better left unexplored for those who would live in a perpetual war against terror.

"How many unwanted "premies" (I bet you love those pulp magazine products.) have YOU personally adopted to support and raise this year. [sic] Are you feeding and housing the many hungry and homeless? (Only sick bureaucracies need overpopulation."
[To] how many enemy combatants have YOU personally offered asylum this year. [sic] Are you feeding and housing many enemy combatants. [sic] (Only armies need people to kill.

"I bet you oppose condoms and sex education too.) Keep your hands to yourself, fighter against freedom."
I bet you oppose disarmament treaties and direct talks too.) Keep your hands to yourself, fighter against freedom.

As a propaganda flack for the mercenary industry Doug Brooks is hardly a fair or impartial judge of Jeremy Scahill's work or methods.

Doug Brooks: Why should Scahill have to ascertain mercenary contractor conditions by use of a trade group? The very nature of your organization is promotional and public relations, not an ideal informational source. The truth-speak on your site is illustrative. Scahill has routinely worked in war zones interviewing troops, contractors and residents; then writing books and articles, testifying on broadcasts and before Congress. You accuse a man who risks his life to give us information of not jumping through your little self-interested foundation. Who is funding your propaganda anyway? It is no surprise that your views differ from Jeremy Scahill's considering how you make a living (blood pimp).

Mr. Winship,

I grew up as a fan of Bill Moyers, but his sycophantic, softball interviews with Mr. Scahill have been appalling. Jeremy Scahill may be the first reporter to win the Polk Award for investigative reporting, without actually bothering to investigate anything - he simply strings together platitudes he knows will be devoured unquestioningly by the ideologically inclined.

On the private sector issue, Mr. Scahill wrote an entire chapter in his book about the industry association (IPOA) without actually talking with the industry association. Indeed, he refused to talk to us despite a half dozen attempts to establish a dialogue. That's award winning journalism these days?

At the very least, how about Mr. Moyers asking some more challenging interview questions next time, perhaps a wee bit more demanding than "what does that say to you?" and "does that surprise you?" Moyers' fans ain't hearing the full story and that's a damn shame.

Whether one supports the operations in Iraq or Afghanistan or not, viewers deserve a better, more complete understanding of the role of the private sector than they'll get from ideologues such as Mr. Scahill.

Apologies for the soap box, but Bill Moyers has done too much great work in the past to be so blind on this one issue.

-Doug Brooks, IPOA

IS government created mercantilist-fascism, "Privatization"?

The "Privatization of Obama's War" is a very bad choice of words. It turns the meaning of Privatization upside down and backwards. Actually, its Orwellian. But Mr. Winship is in good company. During an interview with Bill Moyers Jeremy Scahill said,

"We live amidst the most radical privatization agenda in the history of our country and it cuts across every aspect of our society" - Jeremy Scahill 09:41 Bill Moyers interview.

A more accurate sentence would be, "We live amidst the most radical mercantilist-fascist agenda in the history of our country and it cuts across every aspect of our Free Enterprise based society"

Mercantilist-fascism is constantly called "privatization" by those on the Left. It screamed by Ms. Klein's "Shock Doctrine" book and echoed in a thousand places. But is what is going on in Amerika today "privatization"? No.

What is getting truly privatized? I don't see the federal government shrinking do you? I do not see all its functions being raffled off, do you? I do not see government doing less and less. I do not see the Federal post office being privatized so anyone can start a business and deliver 1st class mail. I don't see medicare and medicaid being privatized. I don't see government owned airports being sold and run privately. I do not see Social Security getting privatized and I don't see local government public schools dissolving & getting privatized into a truly free market education based school system.

Do you see government getting smaller, doing less? I do not see the government getting smaller, that is shrinking do to all this "privatization". If there was privatization we would indeed be "in the mist of the most radical privatization in our history".

Here is what we do see. We see King Washington has found a trick via granting a monopoly grant to the East India Tea Company (in this case Halliburton and others) and thus hiding what the government is doing from public scrutiny or accountability.

So what is it called when government engages "the private sector" in this way? It is called is Mercantilist-Fascism. No bid contracts, lone companies married to government for its life blood is not a "Free Enterprise Company born of the Free Market." It is a government monopoly grant, a 'no bid contract" a bastard company born & maintained by Big Government alone. It is a private corporation, to be sure, but its not Microsoft or McDonald's where upon it must satisfy billions of individual customers at every minute of the day, no, it is "One Customer Company", and that customer is Big Government.

So, lets be clear, nothing at all is getting privatized.

If anything, Big Government as found a means to continue doing what it wants without being publicly scrutinized. There is your story.

Its a pity you Michael and Jeremy and Ms. Klein and others cannot be intellectually precise & exact on this. The misuse of concepts leads to the public making bad policy choices. In the name of being precise and exact, what we do see happening today is private industries becoming effectively NATIONALIZED or Socialized by big government more and more, such as GM, Chrysler and AIG.

Jeremy, its flat out Orwellian to call Obama's war machine as somehow being a "privatization of our military", no it is not.

How is it privatization when Halliburton gets its contracts from the government? How is it privatization even if Big Government had ten companies bid on a contract? Its still a fascist business model solely dependent upon one customer, Big Government, our tax dollars and Big government's ability to print and borrow that keeps those companies' alive.

This is not privatization, its mercantilist-fascism all rolled into one horrible beast. Hitler had such 'companies' supplying his war machine, look it up. Now Amerika has them. What is next thing our king Obama will do, declare Martial Law?

The R3volution continues, long live Ron Paul,

Michael: Like most successful salespeople Obama is a master equivocator. John Hockenberry (The Takeaway WNYC)accurately described the Cairo speech as the international version of his vague campaign talking points. We can only imagine the John McCain gang to have been slightly worse on international affairs. It makes one nostalgic for Jimmy Carter (now revealed as a murdering pragmatist preaching human rights).

gbm3: You really get off on that tearing limb from limb, sucking brains out, salt poisoning and burning stuff, don't ya? Maybe you'd fit right in a WHINSEC (Fort Benning, GA.) where macoutes go to learn counterinsurgency. How about getting your head out of other people's uteruses. Most abortions are performed when the fetus is at the complexity of an insect and potential is better left unexplored for those who would live in material and emotional deprivation. How many unwanted "premies" (I bet you love those pulp magazine products.) have YOU personally adopted to support and raise this year. Are you feeding and housing the many hungry and homeless? (Only sick bureaucracies need overpopulation. I bet you oppose condoms and sex education too.) Keep your hands to yourself, fighter against freedom.


I love you, Michael Winship - how did you hear me singing that song, "How Can I miss you ...."? But a friend pointed out this morning that it is okay to "worry" (as Rachel Maddow keeps saying) about "all these people who hold no political office - Limbaugh, all the Cheneys, O'Reilly, Hannity, and all the supposed reporters like the ones who never challenge these motormouths when they make not just inflammatory - but utterly untruthful and deliberately inaccurate statements - doeosn't anybody except Olbermann and Maddow (and a few on the radio like Randi Rhodes) ever do any studying??? Sigh. At least Obama is doing something - I wish all the malcontents on the left would take a breath and take account of what is being done instead of everything they expected to be done simultaneously in a few months - waidaminnid (I lived in NYC) - isn't that what Obama .......?

Abortion is a completely different issue. There are plenty of places for you to discuss abortion rights. Don't hijack the comments section for your particular cause. Of course abortion deserves further discussion, but not in the comments section of this particular post.

To clarify:
On abortion vis "safe, legal, and rare", it is never "safe" for the aborted preborn, it is not legitimately "legal" from a natural law standpoint (see Dr. King's "A Letter from Birm. Jail"), and 1 or 1 million preborn murders ("womb-lynchings") are a tragedy (the best way to make them "rare" is to make it illegal as in pre-Roe days).

What I don't understand is this: Why do liberal outlets like this one spend so much time on human rights issues (torture here) but don't seem to cover any of the plethora of stories about abortion and its heroes on the opposition side? Both torture and abortion are intrisic evils which are "contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity,' and should be rejected as not "in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person.'" Neither torture nor abortion are to be legitimately "safe, legal, and rare."

Water boarding, that's nothing. How about tearing humans limb from limb, sucking their brains out, salt poisoning, and burning them to death?

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