Today, the Congressional Budget Office released the first comprehensive, government study on private contractors in Iraq to date. Its results ratify a longstanding critique that the administration has been able to wage this war without a military draft only by enlisting a Shadow Army, which according to the CBO, will have cost the American taxpayer an estimated $100 billion by the end of fiscal year 2008.

According to the analysis, the US government paid out $85 billion to private contractors — $76 billion of that through the Department of Defense — from 2003 through 2007. The bulk of the DoD contracts — 75 percent — was obligated through the Army. Most of the money went to logistics, support, food and petroleum, most of the things we expected the military to handle in-house throughout previous wars and conflicts.

In fact, the largest of the Army contracts — $22 billion worth — is the ongoing Army’s Logistics Civil Operations Program (LOGCAP) of which Kellogg, Brown and Root (former Halliburton subsidiary) has been the primary recipient since before the war.

CBO estimates that an estimated 190,000 private contractors were working in Iraq through US government contracts as of early 2008, with 20 percent of them US citizens, and the rest a combination of Iraqi nationals and foreigners. This squares with earlier estimates and reflects, according to CBO, a 1:1 military personnel/contractor ratio — the highest in American history, save the Balkans. The Balkan situation was set on a far less grander scale, however, a CBO spokesman said in a press briefing earlier today.

From the report:

The United States has used contractors during previous
military operations, although not to the current
extent. According to rough historical data, the ratio of
about one contractor employee for every member of
the U.S. armed forces in the Iraq theater is at least 2.5
times higher than that ratio during any other major
U.S. conflict, although it is roughly comparable with
the ratio during operations in the Balkans in the
1990s.

The Bush Administration hasn’t waged this war on the cheap, but certainly it has on the sly. With political opposition to the preemptive war policy in Iraq growing since before the initial invasion, the White House would have been faced with some very difficult decisions if it hadn’t the opportunity of privatizing Operation Iraqi Freedom. With the deployment of this Shadow Army, President George W. Bush was able to have his war with or without the full backing of the nation. Who really wins in this situation takes us back to Vietnam, the last of the conscripted soldier wars, where many have argued that the withdrawal of US forces, beginning in 1968, was due in part to the disintegration of citizen support back home. Today, if one feels they have much less of a say, at least they know why.