What This White House Really Needs Is Mercenaries

What This White House Really Needs Is Mercenaries

Oh good, Steve Bannon and Erik Prince have an idea for Afghanistan.

(Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post)

As long as Steve Bannon, the last surviving heir to House Harkonnen, has the ear of the mighty in the White House, there’s going to be a nearly endless supply of Really Bad Ideas to compete for space in The New York Times with the Times‘s equally compelling new game show, Name That Muscovite.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

Holy hell, what a Really Bad Idea this is. Let’s ask actual military men what they think of it.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

However, the two had a good laugh about it over a couple of beers at happy hour.

Soliciting the views of Mr. Prince and Mr. Feinberg certainly qualifies as out-of-the-box thinking in a process dominated by military leaders in the Pentagon and the National Security Council. But it also raises a host of ethical issues, not least that both men could profit from their recommendations. “The conflict of interest in this is transparent,” said Sean McFate, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote a book about the growth of private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “Most of these contractors are not even American, so there is also a lot of moral hazard.”

You think? Prince is a proven employer of international gangsters whose sister presently is wrecking public education. (The United States would be infinitely better off if the Princes of Holland, Michigan, had been born in Holland, the country, and stayed there.) More to the point, what is this policy supposed to accomplish? Let’s ask the guy who thought it up.

Despite Mr. Bannon’s apparent inability to persuade Mr. Mattis, Defense Department officials said they did not underestimate his influence as a link to, and an advocate for, Mr. Trump’s populist political base. Mr. Bannon has told colleagues that sending more troops to Afghanistan is a slippery slope to the nation building that Mr. Trump ran against during the campaign. Mr. Bannon has also questioned what the United States has gotten for the $850 billion in nonmilitary spending it has poured into the country, noting that Afghanistan confounded the neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration and the progressives in the Obama administration. Mr. Kushner has not staked out as strong a position, one official said. But he, too, is sharply critical of the Bush and Obama strategies, and has said he views his role as making sure the president has credible options.

Jared, the logistical savant last seen being shut down for a loan by the Qataris, is “sharply critical” of the strategies in Afghanistan? What does the guy running the hot-dog wagon outside 666 Fifth Avenue think?

The shebeen is on record as saying that the United States should cut bait on Afghanistan at the earliest opportunity. But handing the project over to millionaire armament profiteers and their completely unaccountable private armies seems like just the kind of idea you’d get from a guy who had a portrait of himself as Napoleon hanging in his house. (Dude, Napoleon lost. Bigly.) If it’s not crooked, then it’s amateur hour all the way down.

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