an experiment in mercenary war - Iraq

This is how Emir de Vatel, the eighteenth century military writer, defines mercenaries: “Mercenary soldiers are foreigners voluntarily engaging to serve the state for money, or a stipulated pay. As they owe no serve to a sovereign whose subject they are not, the advantages he offers them are their solve motive. By enlisting they incur the obligation to serve him; and the prince on his part promises them certain conditions which are settled in the articles of enlistment.”

In Mercenaries, Pirates and Sovereigns, Janice Thompson describes the conditions that gave rise to the great use of mercenaries by the European kingdoms:

“Scholars agree that feudalism’s constraints on military service wre a major inducement for monarchs to turn to mercenaries. Whatever its other drawbacks, the feudal military system was based on the principle of defense. Knights were duty-bound to serve only a very limited amount of time – something like forty days a year – but, more importantly, were not obligated to serve abroad. Thus, feudal military rights and obligations presented a barrier to launching offensive military campaigns.”

Posthegemony has a very nice summing up of Thompson’s position:

"Janice Thomson's Mercenaries, Pirates, and Sovereigns (discussed also in the Laboratorium) is about the constitution of sovereignty not (as is customarily stressed) so much by imposition of order within national territories, but by the delegitimation and suppression of extraterritorial violence wielded by non-state actors. In her words, she asks:

How did the state achieve a monopoly on violence beyond its borders that emanates from its territory? What explains the elimination of nonstate violence from global politics? (3; my emphasis)
For, as Thomson recounts at some length, until remarkably recently--the mid nineteenth-century at least--global violence was if anything dominated by non-state rather than state actors. Moreover, this non-state domination of extraterritorial force was for the most part accepted and even sanctioned by states themselves. Why, Thomson asks, should states desire to end this long tradition, especially in so far as it entailed numerous benefits to states both strong and weak?”

LI has been trying to weaken the idea that states are the fundamental units of political order, in favor of the (quite insane) idea that wars are. One of the results of supposing the fundamental status of war is that one looks at armies not as things mounted by a unitary thing called the state which then engage in wars, but instead, as organizations operating to define contests between powers shaping themselves in terms of either past, ongoing, or future wars, in which the state operates as one site of that struggle. If the state transcends war to the extent that it has an independent nature outside of war – and who would deny that? - that transcendence is precarious.

Our perspective does not dissolve states irretrievably into these contesting powers, since obviously states do have a unity and an effect – or some states do, at some times. However, we don’t assume a seamless unity of interest or identity between the sovereign and the people in states. And without that seamless identity, we look at the raising, maintaining and command of armies as perpetually subject to the temptation of the mercenary form even when a nation’s army is composed of citizens of the nation. The mercenary form is defined by how the army is maintained, who utilizes it, and how deviant its status is from that defined by the formal rules of law – from the constitution.

I keep calling Iraq a vanity war. I don’t mean that merely to be sarcastic. It really is a vanity war, and it really is being fought by the exploitation, by the sovereign, of armies that are no longer constrained by the formal rules for their employment, raising, and operation, but instead are being wholly subordinated to the whims of the executive. That the sovereign, here, is an American president, and that the troops are, for the most part, American citizens doesn’t make too much of a difference.

In fact, the warmongers are very eager to push at the boundaries of the mercenary form. A couple of years ago, Max Boot proposed that the U.S. hire illegal immigrants to fight in the army, with the reward being a path to citizenship.

“With combat dragging on in Iraq and plenty of jobs available at home, there aren't enough volunteers. So far, a real crisis has been averted only because the Army has exceeded its retention goals and kept some troops in uniform past their discharge dates, but it will only get tougher to keep volunteers in uniform if troops are constantly deployed overseas.

"There are two obvious, and obviously wrongheaded, solutions to this problem: Pull out of Iraq now or institute a draft. The former would hand a victory to terrorists and undo everything that more than 1,700 Americans have given their lives to achieve. The latter option, aside from being a political non-starter, would also dilute the high quality of the all-volunteer force.

"Having reviewed all the other possibilities and found them wanting, I return to the solution I proposed on this page in February: Broaden the recruiting base beyond U.S. citizens and permanent, legal residents. Legislation has been drafted to make a modest start in that direction.

"The proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act is targeted at children of undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. for more than five years but not born here. They would get legal status and become eligible for citizenship if they graduate from high school, stay out of trouble and either attend college for two years or serve two years in the armed forces. This bill, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), drew 48 cosponsors in the Senate last year but failed to get a floor vote. It is likely to be reintroduced soon.

"The DREAM Act is a great idea, but I would go further and offer citizenship to anyone, anywhere on the planet, willing to serve a set term in the U.S. military.”

(I particularly like that it is called the Dream act. In my graphic novel, the U.S. is led by the Nightmare Party – and this is just the kind of thing the Nightmare party does)

Boot’s article casually calls it the U.S. military, as if it is self evident that a military that is trying to enlist non-U.S. citizens in a war that the citizenry itself doesn’t want to fight is still a U.S. entity. It is as American as a ship that registers in Liberia is Liberian – it is a cover for the usurpation of a particular collective of interests.

Boot, of course, is not the only DREAMer – the Pentagon has high hopes for a fully mechanized army, which would be the mercenary principle on batteries. The objective correlative of the return of the mercenary form – the sovereign’s response to the political upheaval caused by mass mobilization – is the mysteriousness of military funding. There was a New Yorker piece about this a few weeks ago by James Surowiecki.

“Over the past five years, we’ve heard a lot about the rise of what Donald Rumsfeld likes to call “asymmetric warfare,” and about the need to equip our military to fight “nontraditional” enemies. But a look at the defense budget shows that we’re building a new military while still paying for the old one. Money is going into Special Operations and intelligence, but far more is being spent on high-tech weapons systems designed to fight enemies (like the Soviet Union) that no longer exist—eighty billion dollars on attack submarines, three billion apiece on new destroyers, and hundreds of billions on two different new models of jet fighter. Advocates insist that we need to be able to contest any “near peer” rival. But the U.S. has no near-peers—or, indeed, any distant peers, as we now spend more on defense than the rest of the world put together.

"Not only are we buying stuff we don’t need; we’re buying it badly. Astonishing budget overruns are routine. The Future Combat System, for instance—designed to remake the battlefield with robot vehicles and networked communications systems—began as a ninety-billion-dollar project, then became a hundred-and-sixty-billion-dollar project, and, a recent Pentagon estimate suggests, will eventually cost three hundred billion dollars. Such inefficiency is seldom punished—the Pentagon often hands out bonuses even when companies fail to meet their targets—and is tolerated by regulators. Although government agencies have been required to produce an annual audit of their operations since the late nineties, the Defense Department’s operations are so confused that it has never been able to produce a successful audit. A few years ago, the Pentagon’s own Inspector General found that more than a trillion dollars in spending simply couldn’t be explained.”

As you would expect, a trillion dollars going missing elicits a big ho hum from the press – who are much more eager to pursue the homicidal fantasies of disturbed expatriate teachers in Thai prisons. Now, there’s some news we can use as we doze in our cheese like fats and watch the parade of the celebrity monsters on tv, the life force in us turning to dustballs and desolation. But LI, eccentric in all things, sorta wonders about that trillion dollar black hole. Maybe, huh, maybe that isn’t a good thing – not to be unpatriotic, and not to doubt the total validity of what our secretary of Defense so aptly terms our war against 12,000 Islamofascists and some of their mothers, too – a world war that of immense proportions such as has never been seen before or since. But I am thinking that a country that calmly allows the military to disappear that much money is well on its way to a sovereign whose control over a mercenary armed force is just the kind of tyranny that, well, this country was founded to escape. And that a people so supine as to let this happen in front of their eyes, a people that batten like maggots on the war industry and believe every tittle and jot of the warmonger rants they are fed on that bordello of shit called the tv news deserve all the many and staggering blows that they are inevitably storing up for themselves. The wrath to come is forged in the short attention spans of today's spectators, ADD DREAMers all.

Such, at least, are the disenchanted reflections of one inhabitant of DREAM act America.


Brian Miller said…
So...roger. Who do you think THE PARENTS are guilty? Hmmmmm?
new york pervert said…
In other off-topic news, here's something from the Features Department. Your favourite said they 'showed me love' at her home in Alpine, N.J., this affluent Bergen County community, but it still sounds like they needed a home demonstration agent. I simply can't believe the shit people will eat.
roger said…
My queen should totally not be reading the purpose driven life. I don't understand - I read before they locked her up that she was going to be reading some good stuff. Damn, a bummer. On the other hand, she is cute as a button with this new look, and I'm pretty proud of her for sticking it out and not doing the CEO cutnrun. Martha Stewart, lets face it, wouldn't have lasted a day.
new york pervert said…
“They made me this triple-layer cake out of popcorn and trail mix. They made a cake out of Oreo cookies. They made this high-heel stiletto shoe out of Jolly Ranchers,” she said referring to the candy. “It was crazy. They really showed me love.”

'Martha Stewart, lets face it, wouldn't have lasted a day.'

Not on these recipes. She even improved the food in prison, and essayed the most refined prison performance art in recent history. Ms. Martha Stewart is one of the few truly gifted people of the Modern Filth Period. To her technical gifts, she has added deepened character due to creative imprisonment, and has bestowed upon the world an example that nobody has performed in recent history at that corporate level. She ate better in prison due to KP duty than trail mix and popcorn cake and oreos-based cakes. By now, she is probably even finishing up with having to pander to Donald Trump, and Joan Didion's 2000 New Yorker paean to Ms. Stewart still holds true. She's an exemplary woman, and I'm not being campy this time. I think I'm into American culture when it triumphs in an individual against all odds. Anyway, you're just doing jazz; she stuck it out, but couldn't have with 'purpose driven life' because she's always managed to pull one up. However, I pray for L'il Kim, because you hope she will become a great gospel singer.
roger said…
Mr. NYP, okay, I'll concede on the Martha crack. After all, as my archives will prove if I could ever find anything that I wrote, LI stood firmly behind the proposition that it was nuts to send Stewart to prison. Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. And much as I love the queen, she sorta set herself up for it - Li'l Kim had a surprisingly incompetent lawyer, is what I think. However, I did read a story about her book list before she went in, and it was much better than the book in her hand -- Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Malcolm X., etc. Unfortunately, the jelly bean stilleto shoes and the purpose driven life drove out the more interesting stuff that would have fed her art.
On the other hand, you never know --popcorn cake might be better than it sounds. Although I won't be doing the experiment.

But she stood it. It gives her a lotta cred.
Dick Durata said…
An army owes allegiance to a state, mercenaries do not, they usually are personal retainers. That fits well with the whole Cheney approach to governance which works occultly within the state. Private armies and private police are clear signs of the decline of the state as a focus of action and allegiance.