So, Hillary doesn’t support a ban on private military contractors?

Secretary Clinton held a very interesting Town Hall meeting today with State Department employees. The Q&A session covered a great deal of ground – the role of special envoys, the relationship between State and Defense, and benefits for same-sex partners working in war zones – and Hillary had great responses on the whole and was ...

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588793_090204_PMC2.jpg

Secretary Clinton held a very interesting Town Hall meeting today with State Department employees. The Q&A session covered a great deal of ground - the role of special envoys, the relationship between State and Defense, and benefits for same-sex partners working in war zones - and Hillary had great responses on the whole and was fast with a quip, joking about food in the cafeteria and how she "sometimes totally forget[s]" having run for president. 

But her response about private military contractors surprised me - and contradicts her past positions. On the presidential campaign trail, Clinton was vehement in her opposition to using private military contractors in Iraq. And last February, she was the sole cosponsor in the Senate of a bill that would require the Secretary of State to ban all use of military contractors in protecting State Dept. employees. According to the bill,

Secretary Clinton held a very interesting Town Hall meeting today with State Department employees. The Q&A session covered a great deal of ground – the role of special envoys, the relationship between State and Defense, and benefits for same-sex partners working in war zones – and Hillary had great responses on the whole and was fast with a quip, joking about food in the cafeteria and how she “sometimes totally forget[s]” having run for president. 

But her response about private military contractors surprised me – and contradicts her past positions. On the presidential campaign trail, Clinton was vehement in her opposition to using private military contractors in Iraq. And last February, she was the sole cosponsor in the Senate of a bill that would require the Secretary of State to ban all use of military contractors in protecting State Dept. employees. According to the bill,

Not later than 6 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall ensure that all personnel at any United States diplomatic or consular mission in Iraq are provided security services only by Federal Government personnel.

But today at the Town Hall meeting, she backpedaled:

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. My name is Chris Dilworth. I’m an intern from Indiana University. I’m interning in the Bureau of Human Resources, Department of Resource Management and Organizational Analysis. My question is a quick one. Will you ban private military contracts?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have, as you know, expressed a lot of concern about private security contracts. The Department ended the Blackwater contract in Iraq. But here’s the dilemma, and take Iraq as the example. We are going to be withdrawing our troops. Now, the President’s working right now on how to sequence the withdrawal and how to do so in as safe and effective manner as possible. We believe there will be an important role for our civilian employees.

How we provide security and safety for those performing civilian functions is a very difficult question. The military assets will be diminishing. The numbers of civilians in Iraq, to go back to Steve’s question, will also be decreasing. But there will be a corps of, you know, Foreign Service and Civil Service and foreign nationals who will be performing the work of the United States of America. And I, for one, as your Secretary, want to make sure that they have necessary security.

So we’re working that out. This is one of the issues on a long list of issues about Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. I certainly am of the mind that we should, insofar as possible, diminish our reliance on private security contractors. Whether we can go all the way to banning, under current circumstances, seems unlikely, but we ought to be engaged in a very careful review of where they should and shouldn’t be used, and under what circumstances. And that’s what we’re doing right now.

As senator, Hillary accused outfits such as Blackwater as having “compromised our mission in Iraq” and “endangered U.S. lives.” Her new vantage has apparently softened that stance? 

And for the comments: Do you think the State Department should use private military companies to protect its employees overseas?

Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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