During the first Gulf War, the US Secretary of Defence was none other than Darth Dick Cheney. As usual, learning the wrong lessons from Vietnam, Cheney was determined to find a way to project military power while minimizing political cost and ignorning financial cost. So he commissioned a study from Halliburton –a company he would eventually lead– to investigate the feasibility of bolstering US power with so-called “contractors”, which of course is a euphemism for “mercenaries”.
Cheney left his government post to head up Halliburton, growing it into the world’s biggest defence contractor. Incoming President Clinton seemingly embraced this development, sadly myopic to the deeper historic implications of the rise of a mercenary economy. When Cheney returned to politics to become Vice President under the Monkey King, he conveniently had at his disposal a recommendation from an “impartial” private authority –Halliburton– to further wratchet up US dependency upon “private armies.”
Thus, with the rise of the neo-fascistic state of George Bush the Younger, the neo-cons felt able to wage limitless war without needing to upset the American public with the dreaded draft: mercenaries would do the heavy lifting, with almost no “optical” pain or seeming social cost.
Thus was born the world’s biggest mercenary corporation, Blackwater USA, a secretive outfit headed by Erik Prince, described as a radical right-wing Christian fundamentalist, heir to a billion dollar fortune, and bank-roller of the Republican party. Blackwater rose to prominence shortly after the Columbine shootings, when Prince got the bright idea of expanding his security services to include anti-terror training for police who might need to storm schools, offices or churches or mosques. With the ascent of Bush/Cheney and their righeous warrior agenda, Prince ramped up his services to offer full-spectrum military support, which includes ground soldiers, aircraft, tactical and intelligence support.
Blackwater employees are experiened, blooded soldiers from around the world. The are paid an order of magnitude better than actual troops, and their loyalties are to their employer and client, not to any flag or code of ethics.
The so-called President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai (who is really no more than the mayor of Kabul) relies upon Blackwater “contractors” as his private bodyguard; his own people would likely kill him if they were given the job. The occasional reports from Iraq of locals “murdering” American “civilians” have, in almost all cases not involving journalists, been military exchanges between insurgents and mercenaries; the American public has always remained unsurprisingly ignorant to the full extent of mercenary involvement in their “righteous” wars. At the time of this post, the number of contractors in Baghdad exceeds the number of actual US military personnel.
So what’s the problem? Where do I begin….
1. Mercenaries are not subject to any law, military or civilian. A Blackwater contractor who murders a civilian will not be brought before any tribunal or court. Technically, in a war zone, I understand that the responsibility for investigating any crime committed by a foreign national falls to the home nation of the perpetrator. A Blackwater contractor from Chile, for example, can commit murder and get away with it, since the government of Chile has no representation in Baghdad, and is extremely unlikely to mount any sort of distance investigation.
2. Because of #1, the employer (the US government, in this case) can commit any violation or crime it chooses, so long as the act is effected by the contractor. In 20 years, I guarantee we will learn of systematic torture and murder committed by mercenaries at the behest of their supposedly “civilized” employers.
3. The lure of high mercenary salaries is rapidly stripping the standard military of its most experienced assets.
4. Unlike a true military, the mercenary outfit Blackwater USA has a blatant political agenda, as evidenced by its campaign donations: to extend and bolster fundamentalist Christian values at home and abroad. Blackwater is now attempting to gain “peacekeeping” contracts in such places as Sudan, where differences are religion-based. Is it really in the world’s best interest to be sanctioning a crusader army to “keep the peace”?
5. It is possible that a mercenary group can be deployed without governmental oversight, thus bypassing domestic laws enacted to avoid this very thing.
6. History has shown again and again that the rise of a mercenary class is quickly followed by the collapse of empire. This was most notably the case in ancient Rome. The Roman republicans wisely argued that wars should always be fought with volunteer and conscripted troops, so that no one goes lightly and without sacrifice. It was a built-in baffle to control the wanton use of military power. The rise of private armies created power-brokering fiefdoms within the empire, and quickly reduced governmental military power to a joke.
Since the mercenary corps now has parity with the Western soldiers in Iraq, might I suggest that all the middle-aged white men (and they are almost all middle-aged white men) with “I support the troops” bumper stickers on their SUVs modify their message to, “I support the government-contracted mercenaries who kill in my name, but without my permission or knowledge.”
Might I also suggest Blackwater, by Jeremy Scahill.