Sunday, August 19, 2007

Military Contractors and Right Wing Ideology

Iraq for SaleBlackwater Book

Returning to the subject of miltiary contractors in Iraq. Background information can be found here as well as in the movie "Iraq for Sale" directed by Robert Greenwald and the book "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" by Jeremy Scahill. Greenwald and Scahill were the two presenters in the video from this previous post.

As Bush's popularity soared in the wake of 9/11 the Republican party agenda became blind allegiance to Bush and blind opposition to the "left-wing fringe" without any theoretical underpinnings or consistent ideology. His departures from traditional conservatism were at the time lauded, as in this fawning WSJ piece. The partisan division over the use and oversight of military contractors in Iraq is a perfect illustration of this elevation of administration loyalty over philosophy and the good of the nation.

Under the Bush administration and the Republican Congress vast numbers of private contractors were (and continue to be) used in the Iraq War with virtually no oversight. While the privatization of military services may be a genuine ideological issue, the refusal to adequately monitor contractors represents nothing more than absolute deference to the Bush presidency.

Providing clean water to American troops is not a uniquely liberal issue. Ensuring the safety of civilian truck drivers is not a left-wing cause; nor is sending them over "red" roads unaware of the potential danger a right-wing one. No-bid contracts, which remove the pressures to create efficient markets, would appear to be dramatically opposed to conservative free-market principles. Yet these too were the norm for a Republican presidency and Congress.

Many contractors in Iraq are ungoverned by any laws -- not by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, not by US law, not by Iraqi law and not by international mercenary laws. This lawlessness has persisted for years without serious consideration, serving as a source of humor rather than a source of concern.

Understanding the Republican refusal to perform oversight or even apply laws to military contractors is impossible when viewed as a policy grounded in conservative thought. These policies arise from business ties, the influence of money, the urge to appear tough, loyalty to the President and an overriding need to oppose liberal issues. Hating liberals is big business for conservatives; many conservative policies appear chosen only because they oppose liberal ones, even when those "liberal" issues are mainstream and supported by the vast majority of Americans.

When viewed through this lens the Republican opposition to serious contractor oversight is understandable, even as it endangers our troops. The Republican opposition to Walter Reed investigation and reform follows similar lines. When allegations of Walter Reed deficiencies surfaced they were minimized and dismissed; the vets who complained of poor treatment, the same troops Republicans claim to support, smeared as ungrateful whiners. The Republican ideology is first and foremost to support the President and oppose liberal efforts, even when that means abandoning common-sense positions. Years of praise for the President and derision of liberals makes it difficult for Republicans to support pragmatic initiatives proposed by liberals and opposed by the Bush presidency; Republicans are thus locked into supporting meritless and destructive policies that do not stem from any philisophical underpinnings.

In the face of mass unpopularity Republicans have attempted to wiggle out of this position by painting Bush as a conservative traitor -- even after years of praising his initiatives and lauding his departure from conservative principles as a needed reinvention. One has to wonder how strong the conservative principles were to begin with if they could be so easily cast off and then rediscovered as the Bush presidency waxed and waned.

The lack of a consistent worldview informing Republican policy-making is unsurprising. The Republican party is composed of old-style conservatives, ex-liberal big-government neo-conservatives and religious social conservatives. Of these only the marginalized "paleo-conservative" Pat Buchanan types represent traditional conservative values. That is why traditional conservative wedge issues such as immigration are now wedges driving apart different right-wing factions.

With the historic unpopularity of the Bush presidency one of the two Republican pillars is crumbling. The only remaining tie between different Republican factions is opposition to liberals; Republicans have few affirmative values in common. That is why, as we saw in this post, Republicans still fight efforts to provide adequate contractor oversight. That is why Republicans defended Walter Reed and the Tillman investigations, and why Republican presidential candidates frequently attack Democratic one. Absent any ideological underpinnings their only recourse is to reflexively oppose what Democrats and most Americans support. The drive to blindly support Bush's policies is alive but winding down; in it's wake is not a return to conservative values but a reliance on liberal bashing, the major remaining common Republican value.

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