By Jim Miles
Blackwater – The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Jeremy Scahill.
Nation Books, Avalon Publishing Group, New York. 2007.
From a small business training and advertising security services within the U.S. to a multi-national corporation with its own private army and army ‘reserve’, its own air force, and many state, national, and international government and big business connections, Blackwater has become a fully legalized part of the U.S. military’s “Total Force” as established by Donald Rumsfield. It is now American military policy to use mercenary forces. Blackwater is in the process of reaching beyond that, having established a newer entity in Barbados – “Greystone” – that endeavours to capture a broader set of global corporate and international customers, reaching as high as the International Monetary Fund.
Imagine then, a private army comprised partly of local recruits from U.S. special forces and from “Third World countries, many of which have legacies of brutal U.S.-sponsored regimes or death squads.” Then, in spite of it being part of the “Total Force” of the U.S. military, it is not required to meet the legal obligations of the regular force recruits (none of these boys will do time for raping and murdering any Iraqi citizens), operates outside constitutional limits, and at the same time is given full immunity from any laws and regulations of the ‘host’ country where they are operating, essentially being able to dehumanize anyone they wish to dehumanize. Imagine also that there is no ‘body count’ for anyone killed or lost in action, making it easy to avoid any governmental or media oversight. Add to this a management that is about as far-right wing as possible, holds fundamentalist Christian beliefs and has many ties – very much a partner in the military-industrial complex – with Republican politicians at all levels.
Now picture the U.S. regular forces in Iraq, 130 plus thousand of them trying to accomplish a ‘mission impossible’ of establishing “democracy” and “freedom” at the end of a gun barrel. With Blackwater and other mercenary services involved, it is estimated that there is a one to one ratio between mercenaries and regular forces.
In Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill has produced a wonderfully researched work on this wonder of modern warfare, presenting a truly scary picture of how this private army, along with other private “security” contractors, have made huge gains in power and government commitments during the present Republican government. This is the government that has attempted to legalize torture, operates beyond the original bounds of the constitution, (thanks to a sycophantic and servile Congress, Democrats included), and is now operating with its own mercenary army, all combined making it easy to draw parallels with other empires and their ‘praetorian’ guards.
Rising to power in the ashes of Iraq, the resulting “big picture” is that “the country was quickly becoming the global epicenter of privatized warfare with scores of heavily armed groups of various loyalties and agendas roaming Iraq.” The more this occurs, ironically, the more it is “translated into more support of the mercenary cause,” with Blackwater being the main provider.
Blackwater has had success at home as well, leaping at the opportunities of providing “security” in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Cahill’s description of the mercenaries sent in is that of Hollywood macho-men, big boys with lethal toys, protecting the rich and corporate headquarters. In a city that “desperately needed…food, water, and housing….what poured in fastest were guns. Lots of guns.” A typical American response to crisis it seems. The government supported this action, saying it did not have “enough personnel to deploy quickly” while avoiding “drawing a connection to the various U.S. occupations internationally.”
Scahill points out the loss of democracy that ensues from having mercenary troops in civil disaster situations. Along with the previously mentioned immunities and constitutional limitations, and U.S. forces spread thin around the globe, New Orleans was “ripe for some major-league disaster profiteering by the rapidly expanding world of private security and military companies”. Along with Blackwater, this included “Instinctive Shooting International” a paramilitary mercenary group from Israel “currently an approved vendor by the U.S. Government to supply Homeland Security services.”
Again Scahill emphasizes the “distinct lack of relief operations, food and water distribution” but where “companies reaped massive Iraq-like profits without leaving the country and at a miniscule fraction of the risk.” Racism was obviously in the picture for anyone who paid even minimal attention to events, as the hurricane’s victims, “black folks [were] vilified before and after the storm – instead of aid, they got contained.”
In sum, Katrina as the homeland front, was racist, unconstitutional, made for quick profiteering, made for false claims of success, and, even though ‘private’, was still paid for by the American taxpayer.
Currently, Blackwater is ‘rebranding’ itself, selling an image of “peacekeeping, stabilization, and humanitarian operations as being born of moralistic outrage over human suffering.” There is obviously tremendous profit made from disasters as well as wars. Cahill provides the reality beneath that fine sounding rhetoric: that “Mercenaries are the scourge of poor areas of the world, especially Africa”; that mercenary wars have no public oversight, “just take money and not the citizenry” and therefore “Private forces are almost a necessity for a United States bent on retaining its declining empire”; and as with all military excursions by the U.S. it all comes down to money and big business, using the mercenaries to replace the military in allowing “commerce to flourish.”
The story presented by Scahill is clearly written and unnerving. The U.S. political-military-industrial complex has morphed into accepting full use of mercenary forces in its global struggle to retain its hegemony over the resources and people of the world. Blackwater will probably be an introductory volume to a story that – unfortunately – will grow larger and more perverse as imperial battles continue around the world.