The Plan To "Privatize" The Afghanistan War Doesn't Privatize Anything

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

Any time we hear the term "privatize" coming from the usual suspects in Washington, DC we should immediately be suspicious. When this word is used, there's usually precious little actual privatization going on.

Thus, we should regard the Trump administration's proposed plan to "privatize" the war in Afghanistan with extreme amounts of skepticism. 

USAToday reports:

The White House is actively considering a bold plan to turn over a big chunk of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to private contractors in an effort to turn the tide in a stalemated war, according to the former head of a security firm pushing the project.


Under the proposal, 5,500 private contractors, primarily former Special Operations troops, would advise Afghan combat forces. The plan also includes a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support in the nearly 16-year-old war against Taliban insurgents, Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater security firm, told USA TODAY.

Anything worthy of the term "privatization" would mean an end to government spending, and getting the American taxpayers off the hook for perpetuating what is obviously a failed war.

But that's not what we're talking about at all. This sort of privatization simply means handing over taxpayer money to private companies to do what government employees had been doing. 

This has already been going on for years in Afghanistan, of course. According to the Congressional Research Service, in Iraq and Afghanistan, private contractors "comprised approximately 50% of DOD’s combined contractor and uniformed personnel workforce in country" over the past 15 years. 

Private contractors have long had a significant role in ongoing conflicts. 

According to proponents of the privatization plan, however, increasing this percentage from 50 percent to a higher number will somehow bring "victory" in Afghanistan.

Now, if the Pentagon or the Trump administration could actually define what victory is in Afghanistan, we might be able to evaluate the plausibility of this claim. But, since the US government has never defined victory beyond some vague words about terrorism, we can only assume that the latest proposal is nothing more than a scheme to perpetuate an open-ended conflict.

The Political Advantages of "Privatization"

There are obvious political advantages to privatizing the war. As the Atlantic has noted:

[C]ontractors don't count as "boots on the ground." Congress does not consider them to be troops, and therefore contractors do not count again troop-level caps in places like Iraq.


The U.S. government does not track contractor numbers in war zones. As a result, the government can put more people on the ground than it reports to the American people, encouraging mission creep and rendering contractors virtually invisible.

As anyone who has attempted to research military spending on weapons programs can confirm, military spending on private firms is notoriously difficult to track and evaluate. While government spending within government departments is very easy to follow, the paper trail quickly becomes blurry once the money is spent on private firms. Spending on subcontractors becomes very hard to track. 

Thus, by further privatizing a war, the federal government can more easily cover up what exactly it is spending money on, while also saying to the taxpayers that the US is lessening its military role in the conflict. 

But, of course, privatizing defense never really means lessening the government's role. Under the proposed scheme, the war will no more become private than a government highway becomes private because a private construction firm has been brought in to pour concrete. The highway system remains a government program, and the taxpayers foot the bill. 

Even worse, the more a private firm relies on government spending, the less interested it becomes in the competitive marketplace. In an unhampered market, of course, a firm can only continue to exist so long as it can provide a service that customers that are willing to voluntarily pay for. Once a firm begins to take on government contracts, though, voluntary exchange loses its appeal, and it often becomes easier to simply encourage more spending by government agencies instead. 

This situation is the worst of all in matters of military operations. At least in the case of a road-building firm, the company might actually engage in a sizable amount of true private-sector activity. The need to build private driveways, parking lots, toll roads, sidewalks and other private spaces provide opportunities for truly private firms. In the world of military spending, on the other hand, we're looking at a monopsony environment where a single buyer — the US government — overwhelmingly dominates demand and spending within the industry. Thus, military contractors often receive little revenue at all outside taxpayer funds. 

By no meaningful definition can these firms — or a political scheme that relies on them — be considered a private-sector operation. 

The only apparent bright spot in the plan is that it could potentially reduce government spending. The claim right now is that the proposed scheme "will cost less than $10 billion a year, significantly lower than the more than $40 billion the Pentagon has budgeted this year."

In general, figures like this are only to be believed by the gullible. The Bush administration, for example, once claimed Iraq would "finance its own reconstruction." Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed that the Iraq War would last “five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that.” The Iraq War ended up costing US taxpayers two trillion dollars. 

So, low-ball estimates of war spending should be treated largely as fictional stories. 

But, let's say for the sake of argument that the plan could actually reduce government spending.  

In this case, the problem lies in strategic concerns. 

If private contractors claim the war can be concluded much more inexpensively, we must ask ourselves why that should be so. Erik Prince has already explained how this might be possible:

Prince explained to [Tucker] Carlson how the almost 16-year-old war and occupation of Afghanistan is premised on a faulty model. “We’ve fought for the last 15 years with the 1st Infantry Division model,” he says. “Now we should fight with an East India Company model, and do it much cheaper.”

In other words, Prince's model is to grant government monopolies to corporations that can cover the costs of military occupation by extracting resources from the occupied lands and populations

Even if we totally ignore the moral problems of this idea, we still are forced to conclude the idea makes sense only from a purely short-term tactical point of view. From the point of view of global strategy, this is extremely counterproductive. 

The US has always used its alleged "humanitarian" missions as a means of exploiting foreign lands and foreign populations. Nevertheless, political pressure from US voters — who credulously continue to see US foreign policy as morally high-minded — has often limited the full extent to which the US government has been able to get away with using military occupations as a means of enriching the US government and its friends. 

Any plan that resembles the "East India Company model" — employed to finance the operations of military contractors — would simply be another nail in the coffin of American moral authority in international affairs. 

If the supposed goal of US policy in Afghanistan is to "fight terrorism," then a new policy of corporate-monopoly-exploitation will hardly contribute to that goal. Indeed, such a move would likely increase hostility toward the United States in a variety of ways.

And, of course, there's no more reason to believe privatization will bring about an end to the conflict any more than the much-lauded "surge" and more than a decade of military occupation. 

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Ethereal's picture

These long prolonged conflicts that the nation states engage in, are a symptom that they do not adaquately represent their populations.  The whole concept of geographically constrained government bodies is something that needs to change.  I hope that blockchain will allow us as humans to build better governence structures that don't engage in such inefficient and deadly folly.

The Cooler King's picture

CIA has been "privatizing" opium distrubution from there for the past 16 years.

SoilMyselfRotten's picture

And who is it we are employing to fight our Syrian proxy war? 

Bes's picture

thanks TRUMP

et al.


the republic will eat itself to feed the oligarchs



BuddyEffed's picture

Logic goes : My company gets paid only if there is conflict. I want to get paid every year. I want to get paid more every year. You connect the dots.

Benito_Camela's picture

It actually goes back way further than that. 

aqualech's picture

Maybe this is a way to lock down the control of the heroin beyond the ability of the dod to ever reduce US black ops involvement. No outsiders have ever occupied Afg successfully, but control of the heroin is probably possible. Hell, narco mafia with drones and blackhawks.

veritas semper vinces's picture

I have modest expectations:I'm waiting for the plan to privatize the Federal Reserve

Cluster_Frak's picture

poppy fields forever!!!

harrybrown's picture

The joos who control America.... Making America do Satans work

Death to the zionist money changers

Quinvarius's picture

Thanks Osama bin Obama.  We all wanted hear to a Muslim point of view to affirm you are still retards.

Son of Captain Nemo's picture

'Thanks Osama bin Obama. We all wanted hear to a Muslim point of view to affirm you are still retards."


Can't be that retarded pulling 3 buildings down with 2 planes ( even if the Bush family had keys to those buildings for getting them in and out before the "fireworks started"!

But I digress.

We really know who to thank FOR MOST OF IT..."Florence Jew-ingale"

Golden Showers's picture

So, what I'm hearing is that our US Government can't do shit right.

If it flies, floats, or fucks, privatize it.

Thanks Federal Government for being the fucking assholes you are and getting thousands of our soldiers killed for your little bullshit war.

Why don't we just disband the entire fucking Federal Government and divest these stupid... admitedly ignorant and incompetant assholes of thier vestments and tell the GOVERNMENT TO GO FUCK ITSELF.

Just when shit sucks, oh, the private sector.

Fuck this shit!


SO yeah. Someone tell me what the Federal Government is good for except for bombing the OK Federal Building? Anyone? Oh, and sucking private banker dick all day long, and giving it up to Saudi Arabia, and fucking little boys. Might as well let the Vatican take over. Fuck the Government! Fuck this!

wombats's picture

"If it flies, floats, or fucks, privatize it."

Privatized Fucking for profit has been done for thousands of years.  It's called prostitution.

Bam_Man's picture

UN-possible for Uncle Sam to continue fighting simultaneous, undeclared wars in multiple (4+) countries with a "volunteer" military when 4 out of 10 potential US "volunteers" cannot pass a simple drug test. Another 3 out of 10 are obese diabetics and totally "unfit" for that reason.

Foreign merceneries will be employed out of necessity.

Where in history have we seen this before, and how well did it work out for them?

veritas semper vinces's picture

Foreign merceneries will be employed out of necessity.


We already have these: there are called ISIS,AlQaeda,Nazi battalions  in Ukraine.

Fake Trump's picture

Privatize America as well. 

Golden Showers's picture

Exactly: Privatize the US Government. These assholes don't work for the people. They work for the shareholders. The private central bank shareholders.

If you all are not aware that the US Government's only job is to inflate value and kickback to the Federal Reserve no matter how many lives are lost, you are estupid. The UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is PAYING RENT MONEY. Usually it can do whatever the fuck it wants with it's military assets, but occasionally in the US there is a TELETHON. Like OKC, World Trade Center in '93, 9/11, and it's time to pray to the TV Media shoving it up your ass so you give more to the evangelist to give to god. It's a fucking racket.

The only thing that matters is finding ways to pay back interest on the national debt to the private FED. That's it. That's the fucking story. That's all that matters. Every four years for electing a president you get an opion poll. And every ten years you get a census. But at the end of the longest war it will just go to the XE, Blackwater, money launderer.

This is the most dishonorable and disgusting insight I have ever read, ever contemplated, of what is capable of the money changers. It's so in your face it's fucking hilarious.

Our men and women joined and died, joined and served, joined and got fucked up bad, just so someone could open a franchise in Afghanistan.

I'm staying. I'm drinking my coffee. Fuck the Government!

TuPhat's picture

If there's money to be made the contractors will make sure it never ends.  That's what the MIC wants.

Juliette's picture

Privatization = Tons of taxpayer's money for the corporations of politicians and their best buddies.

Twee Surgeon's picture

I'll never forget the night the first wave of Afghan Airforce bombers came over Washington State and the thud of the bombs on my neighbors houses, we could hear them screaming as they died. We found Johnnys body out front on the street when the Sun came up. His horribly burned girlfriend was sobbing "Put his head back on" over and over again. Oh, no, that was just a dream.

We are in Afghanistan for 16? years because ? Opium ? Mooslims ? 9/11 ? Mineral deposits ? They are going to nuke us ?

WTF ? and now they are just going to hire Mercaneries ? God forbid we should question the narrative (and I'm a Trump supporter !) but i'm not buying a lot of the shit I'm hearing from Anyone collecting a .Gov check.

hongdo's picture

Pay thugs rediculous amounts of money (I have heard 200K-400K/yr) to go to a foreign country and beat up the population for an unknown reason.  While the stay-at-homes beat up children. What a sad country we have become. 

I guess I need to look Canadian on my trip next week.

King of Ruperts Land's picture

Afghan War: Don't forget this reason "so Suzy can go to school"

Turns out literacy is highly overrated. This illiterate tribal society is more robust and defeats what amounts to a high tech army from 1000 years in the future.

dbTX's picture

I'd like to see The House and The Senate privatized.

I am Jobe's picture

How about sending House and Senate memebers and their family to Afghanistan to fight the war. Include their Children as well. If they don't come back we can save lots of money. 

wombats's picture

The entire congress was already privatized long ago.  It is completely in the service of banksters and a certain small country in the middle east bordering the Mediterranean.


Yen Cross's picture

     And who is going to pay the salaries of these so called private contractors?   The US taxpayer, that's who.

Benito_Camela's picture

Exactly. As we ALREADY are. 

I am Jobe's picture

Must keep the drugs flowing. Chop Chop American Families waiting to get high. 

Son of Captain Nemo's picture

Someone needs to send the same "Get Well" card to Erik Prince that Prince Bandar "Bush" bin Sultan received a few years back!

By the way how is Bandar "Bush" doing these days?...

Haven't seen him around in public lately??? Or at his cottage in Aspen going on 4 years now?!!!

Benito_Camela's picture

WTF is this shit? How in the hell would a war be totally privatized and when did any rational person say this was going to happen? I don't care what that piece of shit Erik Prince or his ilk say about ANYTHING. 

Son of Captain Nemo's picture


Get your head out of your butt buddy.

It went both private and silent in order to sell the American people a war in Afghanistan and then Iraq both of which were illegal invasions and occupations?...

Didn't you hear all the horror stories about how pissed off the "regular" Army and Marine Corps were when they were making less than half of what Backwater crowd was making and (still makes)????

Morale went don't the toilet over money! Which didn't have anything to do with looking away from the evidence of "Ground Zero", or the towel heads we were knowingly training as early as the "Balkans" with NGDR coming out of Chechnya, Yugoslavia, Romania and of course Egypt, Saudi Arabia!...

And the U.S. military has never recovered since it was air-dropped on shrink wrapped pallets for unknown destinations with the U.S. Treasury's blessings of course!!!

tripletail's picture

It's not a war. It's a racket! And it's running very smoothly. Thank you very much! /s

heresy101's picture

Amazing! I didn't think that I would ever agree with the Mises cult on anything. But they are right, this is just a huge welfare transfer to the MIC 1%.

US Out of Afganistan Now!!

Baron von Bud's picture

The East India model has been in test mode for years. Most of these private soldiers are former army. Their deaths are not reported as a casualty of war. A local guy here was a private contractor in Afghanistan and died there. His obit said he lived in Virginia and they made his vague cause of death sound like a car accident or youthful cancer. Under the contractor model, retired US generals will manage the private war and will get paid huge salaries. The private soldiers will make well over $100k. No journalists, no accountability for atrocities and torture, and no future VA hospital bills for the government. This is what government becomes when all that matters is profit for insiders.

Rebelrebel7's picture

Here is a better idea: withdraw from the war in Afghanistan! Afghanistan has NEVER lost a war against ANYONE!

Seal's picture

there is no tide to turn!

Mustafa Kemal's picture

Eric Prince and the Phoenix program, which won so many hearts and minds in Vietnam, is returning, fully supported by our POTUS. Moreover, it is template for what we get to inherit possibly real soon.

spanish inquisition's picture

This model pretty much says that the invasion does not need to be won. All we need to do is fight and strip mine it as we go.

Oh wait, we also need to bring them freedom and democracy!

Is there a prospectus? How much can I earn by investing? Can I invest and ask for certain resources, like copper, to be stripped out of Afghanistan?

earleflorida's picture

"EriK the Great`Fail' should go back to the 'Army War College' and brush up on history! 

Afghanistan is the "Graveyard of Empires"! Period!

The British Empire... the Soviet Union Empire,... and now the hobbled USSA Empire!

yet, every[body] says its different this [tyme]?

roadhazard's picture

Erik Prince was on CSPAN yesterday morning... slime ball.

Boss Tweed's picture

the devos family is slime; they own spectrum health; wanna know what they did with your health records they had access to? not just their own files, as principle insurer and health provider, they have access to everyones information.


but dont take my word for it, take a few minutes and check this out.


and i want to say this about that link: that link is the blog of a self confessed tea party patriot(i.e. conservative) southern arkensas WHITE boy - born in cooter creek - who also happens to be a data/packet and network traffic analyst.



any_mouse's picture

East India Company and Opium.

The USA Empire is the continuation of the British Empire.

Warren Platts's picture

Good point. They could turn over the opium concession to Blackwater, and then it WOULD be self-financing.

King of Ruperts Land's picture

If they put it out to truly competitive bid the Taliban would surely win the contract.

Herdee's picture

Paid by the each ear brought in?


War Is A Racket

By Major General Smedley Butler

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

rejected's picture

And Russia is now wondering who is dropping ISIS supplies by plane in Afghanistan.

The only way to stop this shit is to take out the dollar. If Russia and China don't understand this then soon they'll be looking at terrorism on their borders.