Hillary Clinton has just become the most significant US political figure to come out in favor of banning Blackwater and other armed private security contractors from operating in Iraq. “When I am President I will ask the Joint Chiefs for their help in reducing reliance on armed private military contractors with the goal of ultimately implementing a ban on such contractors,” she declared in a major policy speech on Monday.
Her position is a welcome development for those in the Congress, such as Illinois Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who have long sought to rein in private security contractors.
In her speech, Clinton slammed Obama on this issue, saying, “Senator Obama and I have a substantive disagreement here. He won’t rule out continuing to use armed private military contractors in Iraq to do jobs that historically have been done by the US military or government personnel.” The Clinton campaign wants voters to believe it is that simple. It is not.
First, Clinton’s timing is suspect. She has served for five years on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has done nothing to end the use of Blackwater and other private security forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In the aftermath of the September 2007 Nisour Square massacre, during which Blackwater operatives gunned down seventeen Iraqi civilians, Clinton condemned the company’s conduct but declined to sign on as a co-sponsor to legislation introduced by Sanders and Schakowsky in November 2007 seeking to ban Blackwater and other mercenary companies.
Instead, she chose to do it in late February, after The Nation published the comments of a senior foreign policy advisor to Obama who said, “I can’t rule out, I won’t rule out, private security contractors” in Iraq if Obama becomes president and that Obama does not intend to sign onto the Sanders-Schakowsky legislation. The next day, after refusing for over a week to provide a comment to The Nation on the issue, Clinton’s staff released a statement saying she would endorse the Stop Outsourcing Security Act to “ban the use of Blackwater and other private mercenary firms in Iraq.” Clinton declared, “The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.” The statement was released five days before the make-or-break primaries in Texas and Ohio, when the New York Senator was on the ropes.
On Monday, Clinton said, “I believe what matters in this campaign is not just the promises we’ve made to end the war; what matters is what we’ve actually done when it came time to match words with action. Because more than anything else, what we’ve done is an indication of what we’ll do.” On the issue of Blackwater, Clinton has been MIA for years.
Clinton’s campaign is well aware that Obama has been ahead of the curve on the issue of armed private contractors in Iraq–and certainly ahead of her. In October 2007, Clinton claimed she was unaware that Bush had granted Blackwater and other contractors immunity in 2004. “Maybe I should have known about it; I did not know about it,” she said.