Sunday, October 21, 2007

Blackwater in the news

Did you watch Bill Moyers Journal on PBS this past Friday to see Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater? If not, you can view the video at the link. Scahill is a human fountain of information and data on Blackwater USA. Since the September 16 killings at Nisour Square in Baghdad, Blackwater has been under intense congressional and media scrutiny. In response this past week, the private owner of the private army, Erik Prince, has embarked on his own media PR blitz. He's been on 60 Minutes, Charlie Rose, and Late Edition pushing the line that Blackwater is a responsible, all-American part of the coalition force.

The government of Iraq does not agree. They have attempted to exert their sovereignty and expel Blackwater from their country, but so far have been less than successful. Blackwater's contract in Iraq expires in May 2008, and there has been talk that they will be eased out of their role between now and then. I will believe it when I see it, but I'd be willing to bet that if it does happen, they'll simply be replaced with another private "peace and security" contractor asap. Unfortunately the whole system of using large numbers of armed private contractors in a war zone is thoroughly rotten to the core, and the shut out of one company doesn't fix the larger problem. Part of that problem is that the US is completely over-extended in Iraq and the mission is substantially larger than our capability to handle it. The only way to manage it at all is with enormous numbers of private contractors. In other words, Bush bit off way more than WE can chew. The answer? Leave. Now. We shouldn't have invaded in the first place, and our continued occupation is only making things worse as every day goes by.

You might think that I'd be reveling in the idea of Blackwater suffering the slings and arrows of negative media attention, and their potential ouster from Iraq, but paradoxically, it gives me some additional concerns. One of them being that if they are forced out of Iraq, this will create a situation where they seek to quickly and aggressively increase their role in providing both security forces both here at home, and as private mercenaries in other countries. I see both their actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and their push to establish additional training facilities in the US as a window into their future, and I don't like what I see. They want to be both military, and a private equivalent of our National Guard. This is privatization run amok.

A private army is antithetical to democracy. They're not accountable to the people, or the constitution, nor are they constrained by traditional codes of military conduct. We see this playing out in Iraq, and we saw it in New Orleans. Blackwater is simply a business serving their own best interests. No matter how all-American they may claim to be, the balance sheet is the true master of any company. Not the constitution. Not the people. Not the government. Blackwater now says they want only "the market" to decide their actions. It's awfully convenient for them to get to pick and chose when they're warriors and when they're suits. They straddle that fence, and under the current model they can jump off to either side, at will.

For example, Blackwater is attempting to frame the establishment of a training facility in Potrero, CA as a simple free market issue. Ignorant and ridiculous. If they want to be government contractors, which is the foundation of their business model, there are rules that will have to guide them other than the vastly over-rated invisible hand of the free market. Erik Prince and Blackwater made this choice, and they can't repudiate it whenever it's politically convenient for them to do so. The ideals of the free market neither guide the actions of our military, nor ensure the security of this nation. They may like to claim their role is not political, but Blackwater has made the choice to be overseen by the American people. They chose politics, and that's what they're getting. Oversight by the government, and oversight by the people. They'd better get used to it.

In fact, we will have our next opportunity to do just that this coming Tuesday (10/23/07) when Brian Bonfiglio of Blackwater USA will be the guest host at Cafe San Diego. If you have questions about Blackwater's plans in San Diego county, here's your opportunity to ask them.



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