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Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama's Army

American Scofflaw

Pentagon commanders often speak of a "revolution in military affairs" when summing up the technological advances that allow them to stalk enemies by satellite, fire missiles from unmanned aerial vehicles, and protect U.S. soldiers with night-vision goggles, but they rarely explain the social and logistical changes that have accompanied this revolution.

Today, U.S. soldiers are drawn from a video-game culture that embraces computers on the battlefield, even as the U.S. Army bears ever less relation to the draft armies that did the island-hopping in the Pacific in World War II or fought jungle battles in Vietnam. Indeed, the personnel that Obama will soon visit in Iraq and Afghanistan is generally supplied with hot food and showers around the clock in combat zones in the same way they might be on a Stateside base – by workers like Savuwati.

Undoubtedly, an Obama administration could begin to cut some of the notorious fat out of the contracts that make that possible, including multi-million dollar overcharges. Obama's potential budget trimmers could, for example, take whistleblowers inside KBR and the Pentagon seriously when they report malfeasance and waste.

But could Obama dismiss KBR's army, even if he wanted to? Will Obama really be willing to ask American volunteer soldiers to give up the bacon, romaine lettuce, and roast turkey that they have come to expect in a war zone? And even if he could do so, those are only the luxuries. Keep in mind that, on U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, every single item, from beans to bullets, is shipped using contractors like PWC of Kuwait and Maersk of Denmark. In the last two decades, the U.S. military has even divested itself of the hardware and people that would allow it to move tanks around the world, relying instead on contractors to do such work.

The White House website states that "Obama and Biden support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines. Increasing our end strength will help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families." As part of the same policy statement, the site claims the new administration will reform contracting by creating "transparency for military contractors," as well as restoring "honesty, openness, and commonsense to contracting and procurement" by "rebuilding our contract officer corps."

Nowhere, however, does that website suggest that the new administration will work toward ending, or even radically cutting back, the use of contractors on the battlefield, or that those 92,000 new soldiers and Marines are going to fill logistics battalions that have been decimated in the last two decades. What we already know of the military policies of the new administration suggests instead that President Obama wants to expand U.S. military might. So don't be surprised if the new LOGCAP contract, a $150 billion 10-year program that began on September 20, 2008, remains in place, with some minor tinkering around the edges to provide value for taxpayer money. KBR's army, it seems, will remain on the march.

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