College prof gets ‘Daily’ dose of national exposure

NEW YORK — On March 2, Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger showed up on television screens across the nation as a guest on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Stewart invited Stanger, who chairs the college’s political science department, to New York to speak about her book, “One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy.” Stanger said she’s landed on networks like C-Span while testifying in Congress, but never anything that’s broadcast to so many American homes.
“This was my first time being on a show of that prominence,” she said. “It was exciting, because it’s one of the few shows I watch on television.”
Stanger’s book, published in October 2009 but only recently out in paperback, examines the American government’s use of private-sector contractors to carry out foreign policy.
The book, said Stanger, took about seven years to research, since many of the facts she revealed are not readily available.
“I really had to follow the money,” she said.
Check out the video over at our staff blog.
Now that she’s completed the book, however, she said the hardest part is condensing it. While she and Stewart sat down for a pre-interview that lasted nearly 45 minutes, the live interview rang in at just over six.
“I really needed to step back and distill all the important things,” said Stanger. “I wanted to get the main essence of what (the book) is about.”
She said it was obvious that Stewart had thought very carefully about the book after reading it, though, and she feels that the fast-paced interview did encapsulate the major points of the book well.
“I was impressed with the seriousness of their approach — and the jokes we were able to fit in,” she said.
And the interview did pack in a great deal of information, starting with the fact that Iraq and Afghanistan are the first two wars that the United States has fought where contractors on the ground outnumber American men and women in uniform.
“This is something wholly new,” she said. “In Vietnam, contractors were about 14 percent, and now it’s about 50-50.”
Much of the reason for this new status quo is a shortage of people willing to serve in the armed forces, stemming from the absence of an American draft, the two agreed.
“The Catch-22 is that, if we had a draft, we wouldn’t need the contractors,” said Stewart. “But my guess is that if we had a draft, we wouldn’t have the wars.”
The audience followed up that remark with a round of hearty applause.
Stanger said that the Pentagon has acknowledged that it sent $8.2 billion in contracts to Iraq, often in cash, with no follow-up from Pentagon auditors as to the purpose of the payments.
And while the money from the Pentagon has given work to many local nationals on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, Stanger said that’s had unintended consequences.
“We’ve learned that money is flowing through those contracts, to the subcontracts, right into the pockets of the Taliban,” she explained. “So we have this perverse situation where we’re actually funding the enemy in order to fight them.”
The audience was silent.
The interview was not without solutions, however — Stewart, in his typical deadpan tone, offered a way to balance the budgets.
“Let’s take that money out of the teachers’ union and call it even,” he said.
Stanger said that his suggestion raised an important financial point.
“We’re cutting budgets to our schools, and yet there’s an enormous subject we don’t touch, which is that of the money we’re spending on these wars,” she said.
And her appearance on “The Daily Show” has had benefits other than national coverage of the topic — Stanger said that her cachet with her students has greatly increased.
“As far as my students are concerned, this is the best I could possibly do,” she said with a laugh. “It’s all downhill from here.”
Head to our website to view the video of Stanger’s appearance on “The Daily Show.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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