Why are so many idiots fighting our wars? Is there possibly an analogy to be drawn between the state of our government and the state of television, with Blackwater staffed by a bunch of rejects from I Love New York and the State Department by a bunch of embittered picketing Daily Show writers (only the strike has lasted seven whole years)? Well, that's probably a stretch. But we try valiantly to advance the metaphor in today's installment of the much-missed feature "That's So Jane's!" — in which we trick an unsuspecting expert on the world's military conflicts into granting an interview for Jane magazine, which he will never know is now defunct because he thinks he's talking to Jane's Defence Weekly. For this special edition, reporter Megan Carpentier talked face-to-face with a mercenary himself! (Well, actually just a weapons expert working at the Pentagon.) He thinks the military needs to be more like Dancing With The Stars. After the jump, of course.
Megan: When I agreed to interview you, I figured you'd be all Mr. Hulking Muscular Bad Boy in camo with a seamy side. But you're, like, totally The Office without even the slightest touch of Jarhead, and I had all-but-naked Jake Gyllenhaal dreams. What gives? Why the bad rep if everyone is pedestrian. Anonymous Defense Contractor: I can do this naked if you want.
Megan: Hmmm, maybe later. For now, enlighten me why you guys get bad raps if you're not all 'roid-rage and testosterone and really big guns.
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Because we, and they, are easy targets. We're all paid more than your average government employee — be it military or civilian — and we're everywhere.
Megan: So, you're more like cockroaches or Bai Ling?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Uh, I don't know who that is, but, okay. Basically, there's tons of us for all manner of things- everything from building planes to answering phones. So, it's real easy for a government guy to point at a contractor when something goes wrong and say, fucking contractors, you guys suck. And, by that, I'm talking about the State Department Diplomatic Security Bureau in particular and their issues with Blackwater and other private security contractors. Blackwater has its faults, but they take a lot of the public outrage and furor over private security contractors when there are, in fact, hundreds of companies that do that.
Megan: I mean, plus "Blackwater" just sounds so dirty-sexy in comparison to, like, "Bluewater" or "Smart Water" or something. But, are you saying that there are other companies that go around, like, raping cute girls from Texas in the name of freedom? What the fuck is up with that?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Back in the early days when there weren't that many contracts to do that work, it was really easy to have good people — Blackwater and those guys were hiring special forces guys, Navy seals, etc, just as they were getting out of the military. As time went on and the demand got bigger and more contractors were needed in different parts of the world, Blackwater (and others) had to recruit more people and there just aren't that many ex Green Berets in the world. So what you were invariably going to get was a stable of lesser qualified security officers — guys that haven't have Special Ops training, are more likely to shoot first and ask questions later, etc. The pedigree has thinned out because of the demand. And, in some cases, you just get a boatload of idiots.
Megan: Wait, so, like, defense contracting today is sort of like reality TV? Like, it used to be about endurance contests or interesting characters or challenging challenges and whatever and now it's just all who is willing to get wasted and make the biggest fool of his/herself for the cameras and pick the right numbered box and make out with Flav or something? I mean, I'm sure you could trace that all back to, like, Temptation Island or something, but why has our government become Rock of Love?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: That's an interesting analogy. I'd say the dumbing down of defense contracting due to increased demand is a direct result of the Clinton-era cutbacks in the military — the Clinton era, if I recall correctly, which also gave us Temptation Island. Those cutbacks led to less troops, less innovation, less training, less everything...then the war came and we were fucked and now it's time to call in the contractors. But, at the same time, having private military contractors employed in a variety of different operations — be it security, protection, even everything up to stability operations and intelligence operations- is not a bad thing in all circumstances. Here's the thing: you see a corporal in Ramadi, and he's got an army uniform, body armor, sunglasses, American flag on his shoulder, that very image makes the locals feel like they're looking at the invading force, just because that guy has a uniform on. And it's less obvious when it's just a contractor out there. Granted, many contractors wear body armor, but some folks- particularly USAID contractors- they're digging wells, building schools, staffing provincial reconstruction teams and making things better for the people we're supposedly trying to help, and that's not a bad thing.
Megan: So, like, are you worried for your job since Republicans are all like, increase the military! Expand Gitmo! Or do you think that they're just going to keep all you guys and do that, too, like having tons of SATC reruns and then trying to make us all watch Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia besides?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: if there's anything Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us, it's that we've spread ourselves too thin. We don't have enough people, our equipment sucks, we can't replace it fast enough... if you're talking about conventional warfare like we've been doing. But, conventional warfare isn't how we're going to win the fight that we're in right now. The reason that we have a whole organization dedicated to figuring out ways to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is that insurgents use low-tech solutions to defeat us. They know Humvees can't withstand the power of a 155 artillery shell buried underground. But, the thing is, they're not attacking the Humvee to kill the guys inside, they're attacking it to film the guys inside getting killed. It's a situation where the kinetic benefits of the operation are subordinate to the informational benefits.
Megan: Um, kinetic benefits? Is that like Pilates or something?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: No. What I mean by that is that insurgents get more from the image of Americans getting blown up than they do from actually killing the Americans. That video uploaded to YouTube can radicalize 100 more kids who will then become insurgents and start fighting Coalition members. If you want to increase the size of the military, that's fine, but you don't need to really to make it more effective. Rumsfeld's transformational plan wasn't a bad plan, it's just the wrong plan for conventional warfare and long-term counter-insurgency and the status-quo lovers in the military. What you really ought to do is spend the money not on beefing up the military but on beefing up the other elements of national power, like, the State Department, the Justice Department, Treasury, Commerce — the executive branch agencies that control other, and much more positive, aspects of American's interaction with the rest of the world.
Megan: Whoa, hold up there, cowboy! So, like, Rumsfeld had good ideas? I thought that everyone agreed that he was old and wrong and stupid these days?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Nah, Rummy was all about building a smaller, more lethal force. Transformation was about trying to make do with less, which more or less succeeded for conventional warfighting (read: the initial invasion of Iraq). But it was all done with little or no attention to the decay of other parts of the government's foreign policy apparatus or the decay of relationships between agencies.
Megan: So, like, even though you work for the Pentagon, you actually think the other parts of the government are important? That's like the Kardashians cheering for the writers of The Wire or something!
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Well, not really. Lots of people on the defense side of things recognize that we're not going to win an ideologically-based war with more tanks and more troops. We need thousands of diplomats, interagency-trained and skilled, worldwide. What the real problem is is that we need to replace just about everyone currently working at State. The folks there now feel perfectly justified in not following mandated executive assignments to the new Iraq embassy, and that's no way to serve your country.
[But wait, who really buys this whole "no way to serve your country" crap if all anyone is actually "serving" is the rich connected guys canny enough to start a perversely profitable corporate behemoth staffed by arrogant assholes who have been making twice as much the average multilingual Ivy League educated diplomat while pursuing an agenda that has been systematically ignoring and undermining their sole purpose for existing for the past eight years? Thanks to agreeing to be interviewed, but also, you know, you're wrong. Anyway. Carry on! -Moe]
Treasury is an integral part of the threat finance interdiction mission, if not the lead, but they need to be better-integrated with everyone else in the government working on the threat from terrorism. No Department can do it alone — and when DOD tries, we get Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and a gaggle of Public Affairs retards running around the Pentagon thinking they own the ideological war.
Megan: Gaggle's a funny word. But, why those things? Didn't Rummy and Cheney spend, like, half the time trying to limit the power of those agencies?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Right now we're resource-imbalanced. We spend more on the military than we do on any of those other elements of national power. Compare the defense budget to the State Department budget- that's comedy right there. You can't rely on the military alone to win an insurgency, let alone this war, because the military has become the selling point for insurgency ideals: look at Bad America, infidel feet on Muslim land, etc. Take all those boots out and replace them with loafers — diplomats, aid workers, bankers, agricultural specialists, anybody that can help the population get to a better standard of living, because the population is the center of gravity in this fight — and then you can start to move towards a real victory.
Megan: Dude, put this in some terms I can understand here. Hit me up with the reality TV comparisons you've been resisting.
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Oh, Jesus. I'm glad now that I made you promise me anonymity. Ok, so, like, lemme try: the military sucks because we're still making American Idol when it's clear that people really want Dancing with the Stars.
Megan: I don't exactly get that show, but okay.
Anonymous Defense Contractor: So, DOD is like American Idol — an old idea that hasn't been updated for the future. State is more like Real World or Road Rules — tired, old stupid bullshit full of vapid assholery. USAID is like The Next Great American Band — they are the rock stars of the government but no one pays attention to them. Treasury is totally Rock Star INXS because [Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson is so J.D. The CIA is One Shot at Love With Tila Tequila because it looks like it's gonna be hot, but once you get a couple of episodes in you want to scrub your brain with a Brillo pad. DHS is Rock Star Supernova, all doomed. ODNI [the Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence, created to oversee everyone else] is a similar case. As for the NSC, well, there's got to be a reality show about retarded people, right? That would be apropos here.
And where's Dancing with the Stars in this lineup, you ask? Nowhere. And that's the problem.
Megan: I actually hate Dancing with the Stars, but okay. If I may, say we return to scripted TV. What with the protection and attention salaries are sort of like government salaries Maybe State is the Daily Show during the strike, only the strike has lasted eight years. The CIA should be The Wire, but instead it's To Catch A Predator thing. But back to the thing you were saying about shoes, putting nicer shoes in Iraq to win. I'm assuming we're not talking Louboutins or anything, but didn't we have a guy in nice shoes running things initially? Some guy who used John Edwards' barber, El Paul or something, was in charge back in the day? Like, he had an accounting degree or something and he was over there and then he had to leave and things kept getting shot up?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Uh, it was L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, also called CPA.
Megan: I was totally close. You knew what I meant.
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Right. Well, the CPA was a bad idea, period. From the get go, it was a occupational authority with no long term plan on how to "wage peace." The CPA thought they'd be there, kick out all the Baath party members and go home in 6 months and the Iraqis would take over. But Iraq was way more destroyed than they expected — Saddam just brutalized that country and his own people. De-Baathification meant kicking almost everyone out of government, because everyone in Saddam's government had to be a Baath party member, and making a bunch of previously comfortably middle-class government workers and their families immediately impoverished. They couldn't get work because there wasn't a functioning external economy and they weren't allowed to work for the government, so they couldn't even feed their kids. Anybody with foresight would've expected that some of them were naturally going to become insurgents, or take money from insurgents to bury IEDs in the road because they don't have any other way to make money. So the CPA created a lot of the problem we have right now with the insurgency by making stupid decisions and not thinking through or planning for those decisions' ramifications.
Megan: Way to be Debbie Downer, there. But, we're totally smarter now, right? We've learned from our mistakes?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Probably not. A lot of the people in the Administration remain clueless. There's a reason so many people have left the Administration in the last year — it's because they know it's a lost cause, and no one wants to take the responsibility for fixing it in the last year. Which isn't to say that there aren't any smart people in the Executive today working on this problem, there are plenty. Sadly, having smart people is one thing, but if they don't have the resources to succeed, they're going to fail anyway.
Megan: Hey, did you know I'm kind of unemployed? If what you're saying is that don't need to be smart or have any really relevant skills and are willing to fail at everything for about a year, can you hook me up?
Anonymous Defense Contractor: Ummm, have your people call my people.