Saturday, June 27, 2009

Erik Prince, Master of War, Blackwater USA

Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater USA, is the subject of a new book, Master of War, written by Suzanne Simons, an experienced journalist and presently an executive producer for CNN.  The book is a balanced assessment of an intriguing entrepreneur whose ambition and drive and vision resulted in the creation of a corporation that privatized operations in military combat zones.
But this book is about much more than the life of one man or the company he founded.  It is about fundamental change in the way the American government fights wars.  It is about a company that is in the business of war, a company that supplies fighters, security, weapons, equipment, training, spy capabilities, and airplanes for the purpose of profit.  It is about the outsourcing of the defense of America.
There is insufficient study and no evidence now that the cost of outsourcing some military duties saves money when there is conflict.  More than one thousand private military contractors were killed in Iraq and, as the author states, "The U.S. military does not count contractors who are killed in battle, though....taking their deaths into consideration more accurately reflects the total human cost of the war."
There was no oversight and very little coordination between the private contractors and the military.  Quoting from the book: "Combat commanders had a long list of problems when it came to contractors on the battlefield.  Teams of armed civilians were moving through battlespaces without warning.  Contractors had run through checkpoints and shot at U.S. forces, and in one case a contractor convoy had even run a military unit off the road."
To understand the lack of coordination, it should be noted that most of the Blackwater personnel were working for the Department of State in security functions and were not under the control of the Department of Defense.  Other problems with the outsourcing procedure was the lack of legal liability or punishment for private contractors who committed crimes or were charged with doing so.
A couple of incidents where innocent Iraqis died from Blackwater gunfire led to an investigation by the State department.  Former ambassador Patrick Kennedy was in charge of the investigative team.  Prior to releasing his report, he commented: "The answer is no one's ever done this before.  What is going on in Iraq now is unlike anything that I've ever read about.  It's not Germany in 1946 or Japan in 1946.  This is not Grenada, it's not Somalia, and so when you have something rolling out for which there is no precedent, you're inventing new processes as you go along." 
In other words, we were winging it.   
Blackwater is not the only private military contractor being used by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.  Blackwater was the biggest but there are hundreds of companies with thousands of people approaching a one-to-one ratio with the troops.  Simons reports that, at one point during the war,  "70% of the U.S. intelligence budget was now being spent on private contractors with no slowdown in sight." 
People used to say that war was good for business.  Now, war itself is a business.  "The business of war."  Think about that.  Is that all it is now, another opportunity to make a buck?  How do private contractors equate profit with victory?  Which comes first in their world?
This book is more than a story on one man and the company he built.
This book is a signal fire in the night, an alarm, a warning to the American polity that the military institutions and the CIA and the Department of State are undergoing profound changes.  This is occurring without the participation, understanding, or consent of U.S. citizens.  And it is being done badly, without forethought or foresight.    Attention better be paid.

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