Are Contractors Good or Bad for U.S. Foreign Policy?

Are Contractors Good or Bad for U.S. Foreign Policy?

Frankly, the U.S. reputation in many parts of the world is already pretty low. Private military contractor activities, especially in places like Afghanistan, may have made this reputation better or worse.

In a 2008 RAND survey, 35% of diplomatic personnel working with armed contractors in Iraq between 2003 and 2008 reported managing the consequences of actions by armed contractors against local citizens. And nearly 40% had witnessed armed contractors acting in ways that were unnecessarily threatening, arrogant, or belligerent while deployed, including throwing objects at local civilians to clear them off roadways.

The U.S. must also ensure that contractors and military forces can coordinate effectively when deployed. Civilian personnel operating on its behalf can easily be identified as friendly forces. At least 78 friendly-fire incidents in Iraq between November 2004 and August 2006 were reported to involve private security contractors; coalition forces fired at contractors in 49 of those incidents.

U.S. Imperialism

In the aftermath of the brief Spanish-American war in 1989, the U.S. took over most of the remnants of the once-mighty Spanish empire and, for the first time, became an imperialist power. Former president Theodore Roosevelt, whom Bugs Bunny ably depicted in this classic cartoon, introduced the “speak softly and carry a big stick” policy, especially toward Latin American countries, a few years thereafter. We’re not sure why the booby-trapped piano scene is also in this clip. Nor are we sure why Yosemite Sam hits the rigged note twice and the bomb does not go off the first time.

This policy was apparent in situations like the November 1903 Panama revolution. Columbia, which ruled Panama at the time, refused to ratify a Panama Canal treaty earlier that year. 

On November 3, a few drunk guys sobered up long enough to declare the independent Republic of Panama. The Roosevelt administration quickly recognized the new country and sent a warship to the area to discourage Columbian intervention. The Columbians, who obviously were not stupid, acceded to the revolution as well. Three days later, the new government signed a new Panama Canal treaty.

Theodore Roosevelt’s cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, replaced the “big stick” approach with the “good neighbor” approach in the 1930s. Very little changed on the ground, as one advocacy group recorded twenty U.S. interventions in Latin America between 1930 and 2009.

In defense of the U.S. government, military intervention is a matter of perspective. What one country sees as a threat to its sovereignty might be necessary for the protection of citizens from another country.

More recent interventions in Southwest Asia fall into this category as well. Military operations in Iraq (twice since the 1990s), Afghanistan, Syria, and other locales are either unjustified invasions that support antiquated ideas or necessary operations to protect the people in these countries from oppressive governments. It just depends on your perspective.

Private Military Contractors and Foreign Policy

In the early 1900s, private military contractors were illegal, under the 1898 Anti-Pinkerton Act. Lawmakers passed this act in the wake of widespread labor unrest. Employers often hired enforcers, like Pinkerton detectives, to break up strikes and otherwise imposed their will. Bureaucrats relaxed these standards around World War II, as the need for merchant marines and other private contractors became apparent. Finally, in the 1980s, the General Accounting Office reversed course and declared that private military contractor employment was legal for most purposes.

Today, private military contractors are an important part of U.S. foreign policy. Contractors benefit both parties to the transaction.

Contractors give Washington politicians deniability. Contractor deployment and casualty figures don’t count in official deployment and casualty figures. So, contractors allow Washington to exert influence without facing “bring the boys home” criticisms.

This deniability extends to the other country, as well. Because of the nation’s imperialist tendencies, American soldiers are not very popular in most parts of the world. If the DoD or another government agency hires contractors, local politicians can legitimately say they asked the Americans to leave and they left.

Significantly, contractors are loyal to the agency that sent them and the deployment plan that agency prepared. Mercenaries are usually loyal to individuals, like Vladimir Putin, and care little or nothing about deployment plans.

Injury Compensation Available

Medical bill payment might be the most important Defense Base Act benefit. The average medical bill in a catastrophic injury case is over $100,000. These expenses include:

  • Transportation: Many local hospitals in many foreign countries are little more than first aid stations. Proper treatment requires immediate transfer to a larger facility, which is usually in another country or perhaps on a different continent. Most medevac helicopters and airplanes are basically flying hospitals. The vehicle must have the latest equipment and the most highly-trained crews. That usually translates to big money.
  • Emergency Care: If some fireworks accidentally explode in Mike’s hand, the injuries may not be too serious. If Mike is shot in an ambush, his wounds are life-threatening. Doctors might need to perform multiple procedures to save his life and ensure that he has as much quality of life as possible. Most procedures cost tens of thousands of dollars, at the minimum. These costs add up quickly.
  • Follow-Up Care: Once patients are out of surgery, many medical care teams relax a little. So, the team might miss the first signs of sepsis or other serious infections. Most of us know how hard it is to win a game if your team must play from behind. In this context, that extra effort usually means a higher cost.
  • Ancillary Expenses: If an insurance policy covers some of the cost, a prescription drug’s cost might be negligible. If a patient must pay the whole thing, the financial cost is often crippling. The same thing applies to medical devices and other ancillary costs.

Insurance adjusters quickly approve the cheapest treatment plan. They often do not approve reasonably necessary treatment plans. So, a DBA lawyer advocates for victims in these situations, to help ensure they get the care they need instead of the care an adjuster is willing to authorize.

For more information about the DBA and lost wages, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.