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Blackwater's Noble Gas | The Nation

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Blackwater's Noble Gas

The name search took a year, while the company became persona non grata in Iraq, but now it's a reality. The notorious Blackwater Worldwide has officially rebranded itself Xe. According to a company memo, "Xe will be a one-stop shopping source for world class services in the fields of security, stability, aviation, training and logistics."

It's pronounced "Zee," by the way, and it's also, oddly enough, the symbol for Xenon, a colorless, odorless noble gas found in trace amounts in the Earth's atmosphere. If only Blackwater and its ilk in the hire-a-gun private security business were found, under whatever names, in mere trace amounts in American foreign and military policy. But no such luck.

In the last eight years, many of the tasks formerly associated with the U.S. military have been privatized and outsourced in a wholesale way -- from guard duty for U.S. diplomats to peeling potatoes and delivering the mail, not to speak of building and maintaining the U.S. bases that now dot the Middle East and Afghanistan. Without its private crony corporations, the Pentagon might, in fact, be on something like life support.

Maybe, in the end, Blackwater, under pressure from the Iraqi government, can be separated from U.S. operations in Iraq, but -- it's a guarantee -- some similarly outfitted private contractor will simply fill in. This is one of the more entrenched legacies Barack Obama has inherited from the Bush years. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about those security firms or KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary that does just about everything the U.S. military needs to survive but actually fight, separating them from the Pentagon would involve an almost inconceivable set of operations at this point.

No one has done more striking work on this question than the managing editor of the website Corpwatch, Pratap Chatterjee, who has traveled the world, visiting U.S. bases and spending time with KBR's employees, mainly Asian migrant workers who make up a hidden "U.S. Army" in Iraq and Afghanistan, just to see how the largest of these crony corporations actually functions. Now he's written a remarkable new book, Halliburton's Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War, on just how it all works, up close and personal.

If only his book were history. Unfortunately, it's evidently going to be our military future, as well as our past, as long as the American "mission" in the world isn't downsized. As Chatterjee sums the situation up in his latest piece, "The Military's Expanding Waistline":

 

"Obama needs to ask his Pentagon commanders this: Can the U.S. military he has now inherited do anything without KBR? And the answer will certainly be a resounding no."

 

As Kurt Vonnegut might once have written, so it goes.

 

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