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The Mercenary Factor | The Nation

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The Mercenary Factor

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Please, please, I tell myself, leave Orwell out of it. Find some other, fresher way to explain why "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is dependent upon killer mercenaries. Or why the "democratically elected government" of "liberated" Iraq does not explicitly have the legal power to expel Blackwater USA from its land or hold any of the 50,000 private contractor troops that the US government has brought to Iraq accountable for their deadly actions.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig, where this essay originally was published.

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Robert Scheer
Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com and author of The Great American Stickup...

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Were there even the faintest trace of Iraqi independence rising from the ashes of this failed American imperialist venture, Blackwater would have to fold its tents and go, if only in the interest of keeping up appearances. After all, the Iraqi Interior Ministry claimed that the Blackwater thugs guarding a US State Department convoy through the streets of Baghdad fired "randomly at citizens" in a crowded square on Sunday, killing eleven people and wounding thirteen others. So the Iraqi government has ordered Blackwater to leave the country after what a government spokesman called a "flagrant assault...on Iraqi citizens."

But who told those Iraqi officials that they have the power to control anything regarding the 182,000 privately contracted personnel working for the US in Iraq? Don't they know about Order 17, which former American proconsul Paul Bremer put in place to grant contractors, including his own Blackwater bodyguards, immunity from Iraqi prosecution? Nothing has changed since the supposed transfer of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority, which Bremer once headed, to the Iraqi government holed up in the Green Zone and guarded by Blackwater and other "private" soldiers.

They are "private" in the same fictional sense that our uniformed military is a "volunteer" force, since both are lured by the dollars offered by the same paymaster, the US government. Contractors earn substantially more, despite $20,000 to $150,000 signing bonuses and an all-time-high average annual cost of $100,000 per person for the uniformed military. All of this was designed by the neocon hawks in the Pentagon to pursue their dreams of empire while avoiding a conscripted army, which would have millions howling in the street by now in protest.

Instead, we have checkbook imperialism. The US government purchases whatever army it needs, which has led to the dependence upon private contract firms like Blackwater USA, with its $300-million-plus contract to protect US State Department personnel in Iraq. That is why the latest Blackwater incident, which Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki branded a "crime," is so difficult to deal with. Iraqis are clearly demanding to rid their country of Blackwater and other contractors, and on Tuesday the Iraqi government said it would be scrutinizing the status of all private security firms working in the country.

But the White House hopes the outrage will once again blow over. As the Associated Press reported on Monday: "The US clearly hoped the Iraqis would be satisfied with an investigation, a finding of responsibility and compensation to the victim's families--and not insist on expelling a company that the Americans cannot operate here without." Or, as Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified to the US Senate last week: "There is simply no way at all that the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq. There is no alternative except through contracts."

Consider the irony of that last statement--that the US experiment in building democracy in Iraq is dependent upon the same garrisons of foreign mercenaries that drove the founders of our own country to launch the American Revolution. As George Washington warned in his farewell address, once the American government enters into these "foreign entanglements," we lose the Republic, because public accountability is sacrificed to the necessities of war for empire.

Despite the fact that Blackwater USA gets almost all of its revenue from the US government--much of it in no-bid contracts aided, no doubt, by the lavish contributions to the Republican Party made by company founder Erik Prince and his billionaire parents--its operations remain largely beyond public scrutiny. Blackwater and others in this international security racket operate as independent states of their own, subject neither to the rules of Iraq nor the ones that the US government applies to its own uniformed forces. "We are not simply a 'private security company,' " Blackwater boasts on its corporate website. "We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm....We have become the most responsive, cost-effective means of affecting the strategic balance in support of security and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere."

Yeah, so who elected you guys to run the world?

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