The news today

The usual suspects on the right are busy proclaiming the chaos in Iraq a Good Thing — sort of a sequel to the Flypaper Strategy, bringing the enemy out into the open, yadda yadda yadda. Personally, I have a hard time seeing the bright side of escalating body counts, but hey, maybe that’s just me.

(Speaking of the Flypaper Strategy — why didn’t that one get the mock outrage treatment? I mean, suggesting that it’s good news that terrorists are going after our troops abroad because it keeps them busy? Talk about disrespecting the military.)

Josh Marshall reminds us that the brilliant strategists who got us into this mess expected to have no more than 30,000 remaining troops on the ground as early as late last summer. Doesn’t quite seem to be working out that way:

American commanders in Iraq are developing contingency plans to send more American forces to the country if the situation worsens, and administration officials said Monday that the new surge of violence by Shiites represented a worrying challenge to their plans to turn over power in less than 90 days.

And then there’s this:

Since the war began a year ago, senior military leaders have given frequent assurances to troops and their families that Iraq duty would be no longer than a year.

Now, those assurances have met the reality of Iraq, where military leaders are planning for the possibility that anti-U.S. violence will spread. U.S. troops are stretched thin around the world, and the Pentagon has few options to increase the force in Iraq if necessary.

On Monday, a senior official with U.S. Central Command said that the return home of about 24,000 U.S. troops who were scheduled to leave in the next few weeks would be delayed as their replacements arrive. Central Command’s responsibility includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the 24,000 remaining and others who have arrived as intended replacements, there are 134,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Chaos in Iraq, the troops and their families getting the royal shaft — no wonder there’s been so much bluster about Kos and his little outburst. Much easier than thinking. And speaking of the outsourcing of military responsibilities to private contractors — even those America-haters at Time magazine find something a little hincky about that situation:

The work of the four American civilians slaughtered in Fallujah last week was so shadowy that their families struggled to explain what exactly the men had been hired to do in Iraq. Marija Zovko says her nephew Jerry said little about the perils of the missions he carried out every day. “He wouldn’t talk about it,” she says. Even representatives for the private security company that employed the men, Blackwater USA, could not say what exactly they were up to on that fateful morning. “All the details of the attack at this point are haphazard at best,” says Chris Bertelli, a spokesman for Blackwater. “We don’t know what they were doing on the road at the time.”

— snip —

The current business boom is in Iraq. Blackwater charges its clients $1,500 to $2,000 a day for each hired gun. Most security contractors, like Blackwater’s teams, live a comfortable if exhausting existence in Baghdad, staying at the Sheraton or Palestine hotels, which are not plush but at least have running water. Locals often mistake the guards for special forces or CIA personnel, which makes active-duty military troops a bit edgy. “Those Blackwater guys,” says an intelligence officer in Iraq, “they drive around wearing Oakley sunglasses and pointing their guns out of car windows. They have pointed their guns at me, and it pissed me off. Imagine what a guy in Fallujah thinks.” Adds an Army officer who just returned from Baghdad, “They are a subculture.”

— snip —

It’s still unclear whether the four Blackwater employees found themselves in Fallujah inadvertently or were on a mission gone awry. Even by Pentagon standards, military officials were fuzzy about the exact nature of the Blackwater mission; several officers privately disputed the idea that the team was escorting a food convoy. Another officer would say only the detail was escorting a shipment of “goods.” Several sources familiar with Blackwater operations told TIME that the company has in some cases abbreviated training even for crucial missions in war zones. A former private military operator with knowledge of Blackwater’s operational tactics says the firm did not give all its contract warriors in Afghanistan proper training in offensive-driving tactics, although missions were to include vehicular and dignitary-escort duty. “Evasive driving and ambush tactics were not — repeat, were not — covered in training,” this source said. Asked to respond to the charges, Blackwater spokesman Bertelli said, “Blackwater never comments on training methods and operational procedures.”

At the Pentagon, which has encouraged the outsourcing of security work, there are widespread misgivings about the use of hired guns. A Pentagon official says the outsourcing of security work means the government no longer has any real control over the training and capabilities of thousands of U.S. and foreign contractors who are packing weapons every bit as powerful as those belonging to the average G.I. “These firms are hiring anyone they can get. Sure, some of them are special forces, but some of them are good, and some are not. Some are too old for this work, and some are too young. But they are not on the U.S. payroll. And so they are not our responsibility.”