What the Hell are the Civilian Reserve Corps?

At this week’s State of the Union Address, George Bush did his usual rhetorical spiel. He had a good speech writer who crafted statements that Democrats had to applaud. He said things that are vaporware for the most part, and the idea of balancing the budget while expanding the Pentagon made my skin crawl. Most people that read my blogs know that we all could’ve debated the President on many points he brought up.

After stating that he wanted to expand our armed forces by over 90,000 (Imagine the Pentagon budget after that escalation!), Bush dropped a quiet bomb on those who have a creeping paranoia about our current government system:

A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time.

Civilian Reserve Corps (CRC)? My roomie Pip and I both caught the statement and began to try to figure out what the hell Bush was talking about? I imagined neighbors around the USA, going off to war-torn areas to do tasks that corporations where doing. Then, maybe, they’d come back and march around the neighborhood, snitch on us activists, and create a type of fascist vanguard for taking over our commercial areas in the country.

The next day I read mainstream political analysis of Bush’s speech and saw no mention of the CRC. Granted, the Sate of the Union Address is mostly fluff for the nation, but most analysis focused on Bush’s health care, ethanol, and Iraq escalation plans. Again, I drifted away from the mainstream and still didn’t find anything about this little piece of the address.

That night, I went to Station 40 to see a vid about a anti-capitalist Czech prank that caused a shopper riot, but instead watched a doc called Shadow Company. Adding to the ongoing critical analysis of Iraq and the Pentagon, Why We Fight and Iraq for Sale being the other docs, Shadow Company looked into the privately-hired soldiers who are currently in the middle of the mess in Iraq. Mercenaries, or mercs as one of the interviewees stated, comprise a larger force than the rest of the Iraqi “Coalition of the Willing.” There’s an underlying culture of merc forces in the geopolitical scope of warfare, and there numbers are growing.

After the doc, I fell into a conversation with another activist about the CRC. For him, the idea of privatizing the armed forces via the many Private Military Companies (PMCs) was what Bush was getting at. After seeing the doc, and thinking about how well-paid these soldiers are, and how their appearance/tactics were just copped by insurgents to attack and kill US troops last weekend, I wasn’t so sure this angle was the right one.

So I went back online yesterday and decided to take a different angle at figuring out what Bush’s Civilian Reserve Corps were all about. My research led me to Carlos Pascual, a former State Department hack who is currently part of the Brookings Institution think tank. Though Wesley Clark mentioned the CRC during his presidential bid, Pascual apparently thought up the idea.

Pascual’s State Department position was titled “Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.”  As Jeremy Scahill stated today on Democracy Now, The State Department “has been envisioning a sort of disaster response [with regards to the CRC, as a form of] international aid.”  In 2004 briefing, the US Institute of Peace called the CRC a “Post-Conflict Civilian Resource,” and recommended that a Delta-Force type of team be created to instantly arrive anywhere in the world to begin to reconstruct and stabilize the war-torn region.

This same source states that they wished to “create plans for the civilian response; and manage an interagency response to deploy civilians to peace operations in partnership with the military and other multilateral institutions. Eventually, they said, the office could be tasked with planning, coordination and operational activities across a full spectrum of civilian activities in peace and stability operations.” The “cadre” of civilian reserve would number only about 100 or 150.

So after that batch of initial research, I began to see the CRC as a corporate vanguard; carpetbaggers was the term they used in my home state after the US Civil War. A State Department, tax-funded carpetbagger vanguard would swoop into war-torn areas and begin to set up infrastructure for the Americanization of that most-likely-occupied country. Much like the privatization of Iraq these past four years (see Iraq for Sale for an angle on that), the CRC would have the framework and resources of the US government behind them for the upcoming invasions and wars.

Finally, three days after Bush’s speech, high-profile independent media began to touch on the CRC issue. Scahill posted an editorial in the LA Times, linking the CRC to the mercenary forces that are already shooting and dying in Iraq (Blackwater is back in the news after the corporation lost a private-army helicopter… and the private soldiers in it). Democracy Now interviewed Scahill, and NPR interviewed Pascual about the idea (haven’t listened to their story).

So, after a week of digging and analyzing, I think that the CRC would be a bad idea no matter how you look at it. Using tax dollars to co-opt the reconstruction process of a destroyed nation state doesn’t sit well. Legal occupation via a State Department vanguard that will most likely bring no-contract American companies into the area to “help” the local population seems like a corporate business model of expansion to me.

If Scahill’s take is correct, then having a private army fight our wars will make the future scenario of conflict seem like a slap to the international conventions that give some protections to areas of conflict. Private armies do not have to uphold an oath to flag or country. They do not face penalties for any crimes that commit in a war zone, nor do you ever hear of mercs getting arrested for war crimes.

Though a small blip in Bush’s speech, the Civilian Reserve Corp poses a few scary scenarios for Americans to wrap their brains around. If it becomes bigger news, I hope the Democrats back off the idea. Then again, I doubt they’d do this as long as the Military Industrial Complex keeps writing the future rules of war.