Friday, March 7, 2008

New Republic Editor Sees Role for Blackwater

Michael Walzer of the New Republic, in an article titled "Mercenary Impulse," dispels some of the nonsense surrounding Blackwater and discusses possibilities for the private security contractor.

Though Walzer is critical of Blackwater in many ways, he makes several common sense observations. To those who argue that the North Carolina-based company is waging a private war, Mr. Walzer answers that "Blackwater's employees, of course, are not fighting a private war--Iraq is an American war." Against the charges that private security contractors are accountable to no one, the New Republic contributing editor points out that "a voluntary code of conduct has been accepted by many of the security companies operating in Iraq." Finally, Mr. Walzer is aware of the unrecognized cost being borne by Blackwater and other contractors: "The US government keeps no record of the security guards who have died or been wounded."

With regards to the literature surrounding Blackwater, Mr. Walzer has this to say:

Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army is informative but written as if readers already know the argument and so it is necessary only to present Blackwater's history in appropriately indignant tones. Then there is Gerald Schumacher's A Bloody Business: America's War Zone Contractors and the Occupation of Iraq, which defends the contractors but also considers in detail the criticism directed against them. (This happens shamefully often these days: political correctness on the left, intellectual engagement on the right.)

Mr. Walzer understands that private security contractors are sometimes able to perform jobs that others are not. He explains,

Speaking at a conference of arms merchants and war contractors in Amman, Jordan, in March 2006, Blackwater vice chairman J. Cofer Black offered to stop the killing in Darfur. "We've war-gamed this with professionals," he said. "We can do this." Back in the United States, another Blackwater official, Chris Taylor, reiterated the offer.

Since neither the United Nations nor NATO has any intention of deploying a military force that would actually be capable of stopping the Darfur genocide, should we send in mercenaries? Scahill quotes Max Boot, the leading neoconservative writer on military affairs, arguing forcefully that there is nothing else to do. Allowing private contractors to secure Darfur "is deemed unacceptable by the moral giants who run the United Nations," Boot writes. "They claim that it is objectionable to employ--sniff--mercenaries. More objectionable, it seems, than passing empty resolutions, sending ineffectual peace-keeping forces and letting genocide continue."

Some of us might prefer something like the International Brigade that fought in Spain over a force of Blackwater mercenaries. But the International Brigade was also a private militia... never under the control of the Spanish republic.... Whatever Blackwater's motives, I won't join the "moral giants" who would rather do nothing at all than send mercenaries to Darfur.

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