Monday, September 24, 2007

Oh Blackwater - more downside to outsourcing

It's one thing to outsource customer support to "Brian" in Mumbai. Or to cede manufacturing of just about everything to China.

It's quite another to outsource functions historically taken care of by, say, the military.

This is, of course, in the news because of the still brewing brouhaha over the recent killings of 11 Iraqis by Blackwater, a private firm whose employees are part of the 20,000 - 30,000 hired security guns currently working in Iraq. (Security forces just a part of the over-all private "army" that takes care of everything from security to feeding GI's and doing the wash.)

The Iraqi outcry may prove to be unjustified - just borne of frustration at the overall American occupation. Or it may prove entirely too justified. (The Iraqis claim to have a video showing that the latest shootings were unprovoked.)

Private security personnel operate, apparently, in a sort of gray area no-man's land, exempt by US fiat from Iraqi law - and apparently not monitored any too closely by the US, either. This latest incident is not the first flap about quick-on-the-draw security "consultants" - only the most recent and the largest. According to a report in The Washington Post:

Before [this latest] episode, U.S. officials were made aware in high-level meetings and formal memorandums of Blackwater's alleged transgressions. They included six violent incidents this year allegedly involving the North Carolina firm that left a total of 10 Iraqis dead, the officials said.

Ten dead Iraqis here, eleven dead Iraqis there. With so many thousands upon thousands dying in Iraq, these numbers seem infinitesimally small. (Unless of course you are one of them, or a loved one....)

What is disturbing, of course, is the distinct possibility that these private security services are, in fact, out of control. And that their use and presence undercounts the number of US "feet on the ground" in Iraq. And that their use and presence undermines whatever it is that we're trying to accomplish in Iraq at this point, which, presumably does not include further riling up the population. Whatever our aim, it is surely not supported by the image of guns for hire shooting from the hip in our name.

Back in the US,

Blackwater is facing a possible federal investigation over allegations that it illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq... The company on Saturday denied the allegations, calling them "baseless."

So Blackwater has plenty of problems on its hands these days.So do we, of course. Even if we want to fire Blackwater, I don't imagine we have the troops to replace them. (Just another downside aspect to this sort of outsourcing.) So Blackwater is likely to keep on rolling for a while.

But what, exactly, is Blackwater (other than the old Doobie Brothers tune that has to be rattling around everyone's head these days)?

Blackwater, in their own words:

...was founded in 1997 from a clear vision developed from an understanding of the need for innovative, flexible training and operational solutions to support security and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere.

Security and peace. Freedom and democracy everywhere. What's not to like?

Well, for starters, aren't these functions that are best not privatized? That are best taken care of by government?

Looking at Blackwater's positioning is pretty chilling:

We are not simply a "private security company." We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm who provides turnkey solutions. We assist with the development of national and global security policies and military transformation plans. We can train, equip and deploy public safety and military professionals, build live-fire indoor/outdoor ranges, MOUT [Military Operations in Urban Terrain] facilities and shoot houses, create ground and aviation operations and logistics support packages, develop and execute canine solutions for patrol and explosive detection, and can design and build facilities both domestically and in austere environments abroad.

Blackwater lives its core values of excellence, efficiency, execution, and teamwork. In doing this, we have become the most responsive, cost-effective means of affecting the strategic balance in support of security and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere.

Turnkey "solutions." Canine "solutions." Marketing blather. Shoot houses? Don't particularly like the sound of that one, but that might just be me. The real question is whether we truly want a private company "affecting the strategic balance in support of security and peace"?

Blackwater is also part of something called the International Peace Operations Association. How about that? They have their own trade association.IPOA "mission is to promote high operational and ethical standards of firms active in the Peace and Stability Industry." How about that? There's an industry called the Peace and Stability Industry. Well, I guess if there's going to be a P&S Industry, it should have an association that comes up with a code of conduct for members. Of course, just how effective this organization can ever be in enforcing that code of conduct is a question.

Maybe we don't want or need a huge standing army, but doesn't all this smack of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned of almost 50 years ago?

Overall, we have about 130,000 civilian contractors in Iraq. Not all of them are armed and dangerous. I posted earlier on some of the downside to outsourcing in  a post called "Soldiers of Misfortune."

Some of the information mentioned in this post came from a September 23rd ABC news report.

No comments: