Mother Jones: As U.S. troops begin to pull out, what happens to the contractors working in Iraq? Do they step up their role?
Doug Brooks: Obviously the money’s going to go down. If that money disappears, is the Iraqi government going to take over the contracts? I don’t know. The whole industry is demand-driven, so go back to World War II—700,000 contractors, right? They disappear at the end of World War II, go do other things or whatever, next conflict, it’s all on a spike; every time there’s a conflict, you bring in more contractors to do whatever needs to be done. Eighty thousand contractors in Vietnam, and again at the end of Vietnam, they’re gone again, and the numbers go down. So it’s constantly been up and down, and Iraq isn’t any different. We have a lot—maybe 100,000 or whatever, but it’ll go back down to where it was before. We think it will be higher than it was at the beginning because the value of contractors has been fully demonstrated. This is—no one has ever written this, but this is true—this is the best-supported and -supplied military operation in history. That’s important. And I think you’ll see NATO starting to copy this, the U.N. starting to copy this—the African Union uses private contractors all the time—so there’s still going to be a bigger role for private contractors than there has been in the past.
Take a look at Bosnia. We had more contractors in Bosnia than we did troops. There’s a huge value to using private contractors. The military doesn’t have to have all Americans doing only this sort of stuff. Why’d you need to have military guys building bridges in Afghanistan when Afghans can do it? I think this is of huge value that we’re recognizing that we don’t need to use their capability or money to do what we need to do. It’s cheaper, it’s certainly a lot faster, it supports the local economy, it creates capacities; it just makes a lot of sense.
Especially if there’s going to be a fast drawdown, you’re going to see a spike. A lot of equipment will just have to be removed and personnel and so on, so that’s going to require a huge spike in contractor activity.
MJ: Will there be new contracts required?
DB: Absolutely, or an expansion of existing contracts. What they’ve done is they’ve consolidated a lot of those smaller contracts into bigger contracts, so a lot of those smaller companies have disappeared and you have a lot of these larger companies, more resilient, more professional obviously, because they are better at following the contract and compliance issues.
MJ: Are contractors able to continue operating in Iraq even with a significantly diminished presence of U.S. troops?
DB: Absolutely. And a lot of them have made the point that they’re going to be there. And when over 90 percent of your workforce is local, it’s not a problem. They’ll continue to exist. Now they may reduce the number of non-Iraqis, or at least non-Arabs, but they can still operate.
It’s a dangerous job, and I would compare it to coal mining. Essentially, you get paid more, but you get paid more because you know how to mitigate the risk. You are going to be taking greater risks. You know how to do a particular kind of job and you have certain kinds of skill sets. It’s the same when you’re hiring security. You want someone who knows how to mitigate the risk, and when you look at our industry, and again, 95 percent of it is non-security, but if you’re going to set up a water purification station in Darfur you still have to face that risk. And you still have to face the reality that it’s going to be a lot more dangerous there than it is in Oklahoma. This is why you use a lot of ex-military people. They can tell the difference between an RPG and a mortar and how to defend against it or protect against it or whether it’s too dangerous to even do what they’re doing. I know for journalists, a lot of them go through the training that companies run in terms of what to do if you’re in a minefield, emergency medical…private companies do that training. You wouldn’t go to the military for that. Blackwater will do a better job than a 19-year-old private reading out of a manual.