Welcome to Blackwater. Here is a security contractor under contract with the State Department to provide security. Since the early stages of this conflict, contractors have had a more significant role in the military situation in Iraq than the total “coalition of the willing” minus Great Britain. No one knows for sure how many private contractors are in Iraq, but one thing is for sure, they are making an impact. The first battle of Falluja was fought due to some contractors making a wrong turn and ending up in hostile territory, ultimately getting killed and hung from a bridge. Estimates of the numbers of these contract employees is hard to gauge, but most estimates conclude that there are at least 100,000 of them. Blackwater just happens to be the biggest.
And who is Blackwater? Salon.com had a story on providing some good background on the company, it’s founder and it’s contacts. From the Salon article:
"Erik Prince, founder and CEO: How did Blackwater go from a small corporation training local SWAT teams to a seemingly inseparable part of U.S. operations in Iraq? Good timing, and the connections of its CEO, may be the answer Prince, who founded Blackwater in 1996 but reportedly took a behind-the-scenes role in the company until after 9/11, has connections to the Republican Party in his blood. His late father, auto-parts magnate Edgar Prince, was instrumental in the creation of the Family Research Council, one of the right-wing Christian groups most influential with the George W. Bush administration. At his funeral in 1995, he was eulogized by two stalwarts of the Christian conservative movement, James Dobson and Gary Bauer. Edgar Prince's widow, Elsa, who remarried after her husband's death, has served on the boards of the FRC and another influential Christian-right organization, Dobson's Focus on the Family. She currently runs the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, where, according to IRS filings, her son Erik is a vice president. The foundation has given lavishly to some of the marquee names of the Christian right. Between July 2003 and July 2006, the foundation gave at least $670,000 to the FRC and $531,000 to Focus on the Family."
"Both Edgar and Elsa have been affiliated with the Council for National Policy, the ecretive Christian conservative organization whose meeting have been attended by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer, and whose membership is rumored to include Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Dobson. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation gave the CNP $80,000 between July 2003 and July 2006."
"The former Betsy Prince -- Edgar and Elsa's daughter, Erik's sister -- married into the DeVos family, one of the country's biggest donors to Republican and conservative causes. ("I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party," Betsy DeVos wrote in a 1997 Op-Ed in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.) She chaired the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2003 to 2005, and her husband, Dick, ran as the Republican candidate for Michigan governor in 2006."
"Erik Prince himself is no slouch when it comes to giving to Republicans and cultivating relationships with important conservatives. He and his first and second wives have donated roughly $300,000 to Republican candidates and political action committees. Through his Freiheit Foundation, he also gave $500,000 to Prison Fellowship Ministries, run by former Nixon official Charles Colson, in 2000. In the same year, he contributed $30,000 to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. During college, he interned in George H.W. Bush's White House, and also interned for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Rohrabacher and fellow California Republican Rep. John Doolittle have visited Blackwater's Moyock, N.C., compound, on a trip arranged by the Alexander Strategy Group, a lobbying firm founded by former aides of then House Majority Leader Tom Delay. ASG partner Paul Behrends is a longtime associate of Prince's."
So they are well-connected and making a lot of money in Iraq, something that seems to happen to a lot of well-connected Republicans. And isn’t it reassuring to know that Republicans have their own private army to call upon.
Blackwater got some bad press recently when they allegedly killed 11 unarmed Iraqis on September 16. They also had a situation where one of their employees, while drunk, shot one of the bodyguards of the Iraqi Vice President. As it turns out, contractors have been a great cause of concern for our military in Iraq. These amateur soldiers, not sworn in like the regular military, have more or less operated under their own guidelines, and have often taken a shoot first policy and have been notorious for driving civilians off of Iraqi roads. Just as General Petraeus has tried to reconfigure our strategy in Iraq to a counter-insurgency, working on winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis, time and again, contractors have undermined their efforts.
One of the most significant aspects of this use of contractors, is that the true costs of the war only show up in the bottom line, not in the numbers of actual casualties. Deaths of contract employees affects the insurance claims of the contractor, but are not counted as casualties in the Iraqi war effort. Another issue with contractors, is that they pay more money for their employees than does our military.
And what drives the contractors? Is it to accomplish a peaceful exit out of Iraq? What is their incentive? The war has made millionaires out of contractors in Iraq. Perpetual war is what will gain them future profits. And certainly, among there will be a supply of retired military personnel who will seek to make a fortune playing in this war for profit, rather than democracy.
We as a nation need to be very careful before we start privatizing the functions that have been served by our military. Our military personnel swear an oath to our country to protect us. Contractors sign a “contract” with specifications that may be vague or hard to enforce. And in the end, are we really happy to have a security company with it’s own para-military force that is committed to the Neo-con wing of the Republican party? If the war ever ends, what will be the role of these companies and their employees? I see many scenarios that should send a shiver down your spine if you believe in our Republic.