Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Some upside to the downside: Blackwater's losing its contract

Late last week, CNN reported that the U.S. State Department will not be reupping with Blackwater, the para-military security contractor, when their current contract runs out in May.

Blackwater will be looking for other work, I'm sure.

Perhaps there are still some banana republics with enough in their treasuries to bring in the Blackwater forces. 

And I saw that, with the shutdown of the Waterford factory in Ireland, the "lads" who'd been working there starting talking about occupying the plant, and got into a bit of a set-to with the police.  It could happen here, too. Blackwater to the rescue!

If the consumer jones starts to overwhelm folks, and massive looting began at shopping malls - iPhones! Flatscreens! Abercrombie & Fitch! - those malls might need more than a hapless mall cop on a Segway. They might need Blackwater. 

Maybe the American peasantry in general will start revolting, and the rich folks beat a retreat to the most isolated of their many fortresses, and have Blackwater man their security perimeters in the Hamptons to fend off all those ranting barbarians at the gates.

But it's more than likely that, if Blackwater loses the Iraq work, there will be some pink slips coming there.

While it's hard to shed a tear for them, the prospect of a horde of mercenaries hitting the pavements is a bit scarier than the prospect of a bunch of sales people from Macy's women's department, Microsoft junior marketers, or Starbucks' baristas losing their jobs.

Blackwater, of course, is not losing their contract because of any turndown in the fortunes of the global economy.

No, they're getting the heave-ho for other reasons:

The decision was made after the Iraqi government refused last week to renew the firm's operating license because of a 2007 incident in which the Iraqi government says security guards -- then employed by Blackwater -- fired on and killed 17 Iraqis.

For the State Department:

"No license, no renewal," the official said. "If they don't have a license to operate, we would certainly not renew the task order."

Not to worry, though, about the work getting done. DynCOrp International and Triple Canopy (which sounds rather like a parachute, or a 4-poster bed, doesn't it?) also work in Iraq, and can pick up the Blackwater slack.

But will they "serve America" as well, ahem, as Blackwater has?

I ask this because, in December, The Wall Street Journal Online ran an op-ed piece by Blackwater founder Erik Prince letting us know - in pure advertorial fashion - just how darned wonderful Blackwater is. (Access to this content may require subscription.)

Hawkish or mawkish, Mr. Prince feels that:

...before the histories are written, it is crucial to understand the often mischaracterized role of security contractors in this unique war.

As Prince sees it, Blackwater's role "evolved from [the] unprecedented dynamic" of having so many civilians working alongside troops. All those civilians - doing laundry, cooking meals, drawing up constitutions - have to be protected, and the government chose Blackwater to meet this need.

Blackwater, after all, can recruit from the ranks of ex-military members (and police officers), no doubt offering them a lot more by way of compensation than the lousy pay, MRE, and college tuition that Uncle Sam gives its soldiers.

In addressing the incident in which the Blackwater employees were alleged to have murdered some Iraqis:

...Blackwater personnel encounter myriad potential or actual hostile acts on a daily basis. Enemies attack with rocket- propelled grenades, sniper fire and car bombs.

Enemies attacking with RPG's? Sniper fire? Car bombs?

Why does that not scream "send in the civilian security forces" to me?

Doesn't this sound more like something that, say, soldiers might do?

Prince goes on to write about one of his employees who was seriously injured in Iraq.

Derrick Wright and the other team members injured that day were not in Iraq to fight the war. Just like every Blackwater professional who makes the trip to Iraq, they were putting their lives at risk each day to protect U.S. Department of State officials and other civilians working in the country. Yet somehow that role and the part they play in this war have been grossly misunderstood.

I guess I really shouldn't fault Blackwater for what was the government's decision to use civilian contractors to do a job that might more normally and naturally performed by the military.

And there is no doubt that Blackwater employees are brave and highly skilled (albeit perhaps, on occasion, a bit trigger-happy).

But it still prompts me to ask the question: why aren't we using soldiers to perform these tasks? Do we just not want to admit to ourselves that we need a larger standing army than we have currently in place?

Prince ends with a paean to his employees:

While some of our critics seize upon inaccurate labels, I doubt they have ever known one of our contractors personally or been protected by them. Our teams are not cooking meals or moving supplies. They are taking bullets. They are military veterans who have chosen to serve their country once again. Very few people know someone who would voluntarily go into a war zone to protect a person he has never met. I know 1,000 of them, and I am proud that they are part of our team.

Actually, Mr. Prince, a lot of us do know people "who would voluntarily go into a war zone to protect a person he has never met."

Didn't we used to call these guys soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines?


Oh, Blackwater! Today's post isn't the first thing I've had to say about this company.  Here's a piece from September 07.

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