Blackwater USA’s mercenary mission in Iraq is very much in the news this week, and rightly so. The private military contractor’s war-for-profit program, which has been so brilliantly exposed by Jeremy Scahill, may finally get a measure of the official scrutiny it merits as the corporation scrambles to undo the revocation by the Iraqi government of its license to operate in that country. There will be official inquiries in Baghdad, and in Washington. The U.S. Congress might actually provide some of the oversight that is its responsibility. Perhaps, and this is a big “perhaps,” Blackwater’s “troops” could come home before the U.S. soldiers who have been forced to fight, and die, in defense of these international rent-a-cops.
But it is not the specific story of Blackwater that matters so much as the broader story of imperial excess that it illustrates.
If Blackwater, with an assist from the U.S. government, beats back the attempt by the Iraqis to regulate the firm’s activities — as now appears likely, considering Friday’s report that the firm has resumed guarding U.S. State Department convoys in Baghdad — we will have all the confirmation that is needed of the great truth of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: This is a colonial endeavor no different than that of the British Empire against America’s founding generation revolted.
But even if Blackwater loses its fight to stay, even if the corporation is forced to shut down its multi-billion dollar, U.S. Treasury-funded operation in Iraq, the brief “accountability moment” may not be sufficient to open up the necessary debate about Iraq’s colonial status. The danger, for Iraq and the United States, that honest assessment of the crisis will lose out to face-saving gestures designed to foster the fantasy of Iraqi independence.
It is not enough that Blackwater is shamed and perhaps sanctioned. A Blackwater exit from Iraq will mean little if its mercenary contracts are merely taken over by one or more of the 140 other U.S.-sanctioned private security firms operating in that country — such as Vice President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton.
Whatever the precise play out of this Blackwater moment may be, the likelihood is that the colonial enterprise will continue. That’s because, in the absence of intense pressure from grassroots activists and the media, Congress is unlikely to go beyond a scratch at the surface of what is actually going on in Iraq.