Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mercenarily Random

Machiavelli is God, The Prince and The Discourses are the Old and New Testaments.

Heed the Word of Machiavelli:

"Mercenary and auxiliary forces are useless and dangerous; and any ruler who keeps his state dependent upon mercenaries will never have real peace or security. ... Experience shows that only princes and republics with troops of their own have accomplished great things, while mercenary forces have brought nothing but harm." (The Prince, Chapter XII)

The use of mercenaries can only harm a country, never really serving its interests. This is the real reason why Blackwater U.S.A. should never have been used in Iraq by the United States government. While I do have concerns about the company's owner, Erik Prince, because of his tight connections with ultra-religious conservative groups, I have no real complaints about the existence of such a company. My problem is with the U.S. government using, often without a competitive bidding process, these mercenaries, for I have read the Word of Machiavelli.

At the beginning of this month, the Washington Post wrote on the "steep price" that the U.S. is paying for having Blackwater U.S.A. provide "security" in Iraq. Let us follow just one money trail. The primary contractor to the Department of Defense is Halliburton. The subsidiary of Halliburton in charge of the contracts in Iraq is KBR. KBR, in turn, subcontracted ESS Support Services Worldwide to provide catering and support to troops in Iraq. ESS parted out some of that contract to Regency Hotel and Hospital of Kuwait, who contracted Blackwater for a 34-man team to provide security for ESS personnel as they travel through Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey. Blackwater charged Regency an average of $876 per day per person on that security team. Regency, because it too needs to make a buck, charged ESS an average of $1,100 per day per person. Because ESS charged KBR on the basis of per meal, it is not easy to know how much KBR was charged per day per person, but it would not be unreasonable to say that it was more than $1,100. Telling is how much the average mercenary on the ground got: $800 per day.

Hardly cheap, given that the average unmarried non-com gets one-tenth of that each day. General Patraeus, the commander of the forces in Iraq, gets just over half of that rate.

Some would argue that these mercenaries are not really mercenaries because they are Americans who are fighting America's cause as civilians. I'd buy that if it weren't for the fact that, in true mercenary form, Blackwater has sent a great deal of personnel hired from Chile, the Phillippines, Bosnia, to name but a few states outside of the 50 belonging to the United States. The worst part of this is that many of those from Chile were commandos trained by Pinochet's corporatist regime.

It should also be pointed out that Blackwater is not the only security firm on the ground in Iraq. There are two other contractors, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, but Blackwater is the one with the most private security "soldiers" there. As a group, it has been involved in more than 200 shootings in the past one and a half years. Most of those shootings were from moving vehicles, and Blackwater has the reputation of shooting first and not bothering to stop and ask questions second. That is hardly serving American interests.

Especially given the lack of communication and coordination between the private contractors and the military. Case in point, in March of 2004, four Blackwater contractors were ambushed, burnt and hung from a bridge in Fallujah; the commanding military officer in the region had no idea that the contractors and the convoy they were protecting would be in the area, but had to put aside his own plans and strategies in order to invade the city in pursuit of the insurgents who had executed the attack. This lack of coordination is made worse by the fact that for every 10 military serviceperson on the ground, there is one contractor. In Dessert Storm, that ratio was 50 to 1. This means that for every 10 of our guys trying to put an end to violence and insurgency, there is one guy -- with the probability of not being American -- shooting at the same people our guys are working with in order to get the job done.

It is a sad state of affairs when America begins to outsource its military. It's an even sadder state of affairs when Americans think it's a good idea. It's truly scary when some are saying that the government should be giving Blackwater bonuses, that the unprovoked shootings by those contractors are perfectly okay; after all, "Who says we have to fight fair?". Machiavelli points out that "men of little prudence will do a thing for immediate gain without recognizing the poison it bears for the future" (The Prince, Chapter XIII). Not fighting fair will hardly allow for the peaceable establishment of a secure Iraq, which presumably is in American interests. As the Blackwater employees enjoy immunity from prosecution for their actions in Iraq, the well of future peace in the Middle East is indeed being poisoned by imprudent men.

When America starts to depend on mercenaries abroad, it is only a short while before it depends on them domestically. With so many of the National Guards serving in Iraq, the usual duties of those soldiers -- disaster relief, prevention of civil unrest -- are being contracted out. In the wake of the Katrina disaster, a $73 million contract from FEMA was given to Blackwater for their 600 employees' help in the recovery operation. Blackwater's logic is simple enough: the war in Iraq will not last forever, even if it seems like it will, and so they must branch out into domestic service. The problem here continues to be a lack of accountability; under whose authority would the group fall, should their "shoot first, don't ask questions later" attitude make a reappearance in a domestic situation, is a question neither FEMA nor Blackwater seems willing to discuss.

It should be remembered, "anyone searching for the first cause of the ruin of the Roman Empire will find it began with the hiring of mercenaries" (The Prince, Chapter XIII).

Thus ends the lesson for the day. Go with Machiavelli my children.

Quotations: Niccolo Machiavelli, translated by Daniel Donno. The Prince. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.
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1 comment:

Dain said...

Surely the greater crime here is the fact that an organization founded on violence and involuntary relations - the state - expropriates the wealth of the people it rules (as well as the people themselves, i.e. conscription) in order to benefit its friends and murder people en masse. In this case those friends are Blackwater and those people are Iraqis.

Before the Blackwater incident the British journal Lancet came to the conclusion that up to 100,000 Iraqis had died from the invasion and subsequent occupation. (This may or may not have included the sanction years, but I don't think it did.) I hardly think that absent Blackwater our troops could get on with the task of routing out the insurgency and winning hearts and minds. Fallujah, Haditha, checkpoint shootings, etc.