Stephen Colbert on Bill O’Reilly’s mercenary plan

Fox News bloviator Bill O’Reilly did the rounds of various shows on his network promoting his idea that that US needed troops to fight in Syria but that the task should be given to mercenaries rather than members of the US armed forces. He was widely ridiculed even by the people of Fox

But what struck me is that the US has been using mercenaries for a long time except that it calls them by the different name of and calls it ‘outsourcing’. After all, what were the ‘contractors’ working for the company Blackwater (that renamed itself Xe in 2009 and again changed it to Akademi in 2011) that was doing so much of the work for the US in Iraq if not mercenaries? What about the contras who were financed by the US to fight the Sandinistas in Nicaragua? What about the Mujahideen in Afghanistan (the proto-Taliban) who were supported by the US to fight the Soviet backed government? The examples are almost endless.

In fact, whenever governments finance and support non-governmental groups to fight on their behalf, are they not hiring mercenaries?

Stephen Colbert was one of those who made fun of O’Reilly’s plan. An annoyed O’Reilly shot back at him and of course made himself an even more inviting target.

(This clip aired on October 1, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. eddiejones says

    Wait, wait,wait… maybe that’s not such a bad idea…. Have you seen the success that “Red Rascal” (from the Doonesbury serial) has had in Afghanistan?? If we can train mercenaries in the same manner as the “Rascal”, maybe they wil… huh? Whaddya mean that’s not real???

  2. Phillip IV says

    In fact, whenever governments finance and support non-governmental groups to fight on their behalf, are they not hiring mercenaries?

    No, I don’t think you could generalize it quite that much. Financially supporting one side in a war doesn’t turn them into your mercenaries, unless your money is the only thing that motivates them to fight.

    To qualify as mercenaries, a group needs to fulfill two criteria, I would say: They must be foreigners to the conflict they’re fighting in (i.e. not have a stake of their own in the outcome), and they must fight only for the money (i.e. they would stop fighting if not paid, and paid well for it). By that standard, Xe/Blackwater/Academi would certainly qualify as mercenaries, as would the force suggested by O’Reilly, while the Mujahedeen would definitely not…and the Contras in Nicaragua wouldn’t fully qualify, either, although they did receive some outright mercenary support.

    And then you have the vague category of “volunteers”, which can include any of all of the following:
    – a nicer name for mercenaries
    – idealists/adventurers (like the Western liberals supporting the Spanish Republicans in the Civil War etc.)
    – soldiers loyal to a third country operating under a false flag (see Ukraine)

  3. lorn says

    The US has been moving steadily toward a mercenary army already. The shift from a draft to a all-volunteer military was a big step. Volunteers know that they can be frittered away in useless and nonsensical battles if need be. Understanding this they demand compensation.

    Pay and benefits are not great but the connections and career opportunities after service are pretty good. Technical specialists tend to go into the industry related to the skills they trained in. Officers, particularly the higher ranks get get jobs as lobbyists or consultants to the defense industry or, at the highest ranks, as candidates or consultants to candidates.

    Grunts, non-technical soldiers of lower ranks, or higher ranks that failed to make political connections, get dumped back into the wider tight labor market where tactical skills are essentially useless or they get into security and protection. That runs from mall cops and police departments to private security organizations that are roughly equal in firepower and training to US special forces because most of the manpower comes from the various US, British, South African special forces.

    The CIA is reported to be a frequent user of ex-military personnel and SOCOM working with US intelligence agencies are reported to use US military, ex-military, and private security contractors interchangeably to do their work. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately this leads to some blurring of lines as to who is, or is not, in the military, and under what chain of command.

    This insertion of, and now dependence upon, private contractors really took off under Reagan with his push to privatize anything that could be privatized. Used to be that military personnel did almost everything. Sailors scraped rust and painted the ships. Soldiers mowed the grass and mopped floors on base. Under the all-volunteer military private contractors took over the painting and cleaning. Which was fine with the soldiers and sailors because they were universally reviled by the lower ranks.

    Of course it didn’t stop at simple maintenance tasks. Private contractors took over base security and stateside communications. They started to run the automated records systems, technical and logistical support. Over time the military became dependent upon those private contractors. At the same time more and more ex-military personnel were going directly from the service to those contractors. many leave the military and use the connections and knowledge they gained to lobby the military to use more of the contractor’s services. It is not uncommon to find private contractors being sent out with navy ships in potential combat zones and to find contract employees on ground missions. The lines have become very blurred, if not invisible.

  4. otrame says

    It seems that Bill should have learned his lesson from the last couple of times that he directly challenged either Stewart or Colbert. Sure, they routinely make fun of him, but when he challenges them, the gloves come off. They are very good at showing just how stupid, pompous, venal, and dishonest he really is.

  5. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    We already have a mercenary force paid for by the “Coalition” operating in Syria and Iraq. It’s called FSA, Al-Nusra, ISIS or whatever but it’s all the same nuts placed in different bowls as the need arises. Unfortunately for Mr O’Reilly they have proven unequal to the task of destroying Syria through mass killing but they did do a stand up job of destroying Libya with NATO support and getting rid of the excess black people and other assorted useless eaters there so the idea is sound in theory. Hillary (He died , I saw, I came) Clinton seems to be delighted with the results so far.

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