“BLACKWATER”: TIP of AN AWFUL ICEBERG

by Peter Bearse

 

Those of us who have served in Iraq have long been aware of the problem of rogue forces that further discredit our American “war of choice” in Iraq. One of these, known as “Blackwater” is a force of our own making. The Blackwater private contractor security firm, however, is only one of many. It is the tip of an awful iceberg of lawless, “cowboy,” mercenary forces “lawless” because they operate outside of any law even though they are hired by the U.S. government and paid billions by American taxpayers.

As an economist, I worked for a private contractor in Iraq during the first quarter of 2005, a private contractor responsible for a major ($150 million) economic develop-ment project. Baghdad is an extremely dangerous place for Americans. I could go nowhere without body armor, a Kevlar helmet, an armored SUV convoy and, yes, a set of private security guards. The danger was underlined by the fact that four professionals like myself had been killed while working for a prior, preparatory development project. One of our own convoys was shot up and a guard was hurt.

Our project’s private security company subcontractor provided a large but motley crew of guards from South Africa, Angola, Eastern Europe and other non-American countries. The Angolans would man the roof of our compound, watching for snipers. The others would guard entries and exits and man the perimeter of the concrete Stonehenge that surrounded the compound. The number of guards was larger than the number of the project’s professionals and other staff.

Reliance upon hired mercenaries is incompatible with our country’s history and values. Remember? We defeated a force of mercenaries to win the Battle of Trenton, a major victory of our Revolutionary War. What makes mercenaries really “rogue” forces, however, riding roughshod like cowboys out of control and carelessly killing innocents as they go, is that they indeed operate outside of any law -- American, Iraqi or international. Why has our U.S. Representative, Carol Shea-Porter, nor her Republican predecessor or any of her Republican opponents, apparently not said or done anything about this?

Lawlessless reflects badly on a country that prides itself on honoring the rule of law. This is more than just a matter of P.R. before a world court of public opinion. As a new World Bank study shows, less adherence to “the rule of law” correlates with lower levels of national wealth and a country’s ability to increase wealth. Switzerland, whose rule-of-law index is 99.5, has the highest per capita wealth, at $648,000. The U.S., which scores 91.8, ranks fourth on the wealth index at $513,000.

After all, the underlying problem is that from the outset of the war in Iraq, we have been trying to win it on the cheap, but without reporting to the American people the war’s true costs. Never, even now with the so-called “surge,” have adequate forces been introduced into the Iraq theater to do the job required. Thus, the U.S. government has encouraged the use of private security forces to the extent that their total number, about 160,000, exceeds the number of American soldiers in Iraq. Ironically, mercenaries are not cheap. As we know from the news, their costs and behavior are both out of control.

What are we going to do about this problem? I propose three main solutions:
(1) Get rid of Blackwater, the other rogue company who has recently killed
two innocent women, and any other such company that the sovereign
Government of Iraq asks to leave the country;
(2) Make private security contractors subject to American law and put them
under the control of the Department of Defense (not the State Department
as proposed by others); and…
(3) Gradually substitute American soldiers for private contractor forces.

The latter is the rub: American voluntary military forces are already stretched to the limit. This is why a debate on resumption of the draft needs to be conducted in the Congress -- a serious debate, not one that just picks up a red herring from the ’06 campaign of New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel. The latest objection to the draft is itself a red herring – that citizen soldiers could not be relied upon because it take too long to train new enlistees on the tactics and technology of post-modern war. Any return to the draft, moreover, would have to be carefully selective and quite limited. Selection of draftees would have to be carefully conducted so that sons and daughters of “elite” families, including those of members of Congress, are at least as likely to be picked as those of others.

As a member of the governing majority, our Congressional Rep. Shea-Porter should take some serious responsibility for what is going on in Iraq rather than just posturing for reelection via symbolic votes and trips to Iraq that are more promotional than fact-finding.

PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., International Consulting Economist who has worked in both Iraq & Pakistan and who is now working to set up an Independent campaign for Congress. Feedback is welcomed via peterj@peterbearseforcongress.com. 10/10/07