Public Diplomacy by Proxy

Go Trojans!The Los Angeles Times story on Private Security "Guards" (companies) in Iraq largely stems from the recent AEGIS "trophy video", but is largely an emotional reaction to larger and deeper issues that is barely touches on. Perhaps that is the limitation of the mainstream media, especially for an above the fold story like this one, but is the door into the larger debate over appropriateness and inappropriateness of private military forces.

A recent public opinion poll shows an increasing concern that Washington is too quick to use a military response, including private security companies that augment "real" military force, to foreign policy challenges in lieu of soft power alternatives. Falling outside of normal legislative oversight, private military forces are contracted, deployed, managed, and paid through the civilian leadership of the Defense Department and State Department and other civilian departments (CACI, the Abu Ghraib interegators came in through a Department of the Interior contract).

Much of what the article says has already been written about here on this site, including

  • "Security firms operating in Iraq have been cited for fraud and have clashed with U.S. forces" ... see Zapata Engineering story (additional here) for one example (there are more)
  • "critics say, the contractors are expensive, reckless mercenaries who complicate the U.S. mission in Iraq" ... see Consequences
  • "The private guards' sometimes aggressive behavior has created a wellspring of anger at the U.S. presence in Iraq....Countless Iraqis have had to endure the humiliation of being forced to stop or pull off the road as a convoy of unmarked SUVs races past, filled with men waving guns and making threatening gestures...."This is not a particularly effective way to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis," said Joshua Schwartz, co-director of George Washington University's government procurement program. "The contractors are making the mission of the U.S. military in Iraq more difficult." ... see Potential Cost and the rest of the Private Military company section on this site.

Afforded perceived deniable accountability back to the White House for private military activities allows a freer hand in engagement policies extending military options in foreign policy without Congressional or public oversight. Clumsy attempts by the civilian leadership to use private military forces as indirect ambassadors and instruments of American foreign policy are paid back with public and embarrassing actions such as those portrayed in the Los Angeles Times article, among many now appearing with increasing frequency in mainstream media.

This Administration really does not get it, as this story about how undersecretary of state for public diplomacy Karen Hughes "believes that how we treat prisoners in the 'global war on terror' is unlikely to have a serious adverse affect on how people think of the United States." The war, as the Morocco Times puts it, "has entered a new phase":

The US and its allies must learn to separate al-Qaeda from its base of support. I am referring to the base that is not made of terrorists but of millions of ordinary Muslims and Arabs who feel disfranchised and marginalized in their own societies while the US happily supports and makes deals with their oppressors. If it really wants to win over this base, the administration must change its terms of engagement with the Muslim world and begin an honest dialogue. Washington must make serious efforts to alter the common view of decades-long of American exploitation and manipulation....

The administration has systematically ignored the multiple root causes of terrorism and as a result the US will end prolonging the war indefinitely at a terrible and debilitating cost. For this reason, the administration must begin immediately an earnest campaign, as extensive as is necessary, to win the hearts of the masses who now form the essential support for al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. Concurrently, the administration must establish a time-table for complete withdrawal from Iraq and in doing so abandon the illusion that it can bring order there or cripple any terrorist group operating there before it permanently departs.

This should be on Hughes' reading list, but it probably isn't. It should be on Rice's too, but she clearly is not concerned with other points of view, believing foreign policy stems for isolated national interest and “not from the interests of an “illusory international community”

How do we promote our beliefs if we pick and choose very selectively?