The rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army.
“Jeremy Scahill actually doesn’t know anything about Blackwater.” So says Martin Strong Vice President Blackwater Worldwide. With the greatest respect to Mr Strong, if he is right, it is a pretty facile comment on 550 pages of detailed research and information. Unless, or until Mr Strong or anyone else from Blackwater elaborates on this blanket rejection, we must conclude that what Jeremy Scahill tells us is correct.
Blackwater is at once a compelling and frightening read. It is a detailed exposé of the private security industry generally and Blackwater in particular. It introduces us to the founders and their associations with the people and policies of the last US administration. It describes in minute detail how this cozy relationship enabled Blackwater to become an adjunct of American foreign policy.
Knowing Scahill’s background, one might have expected a scathing attack -― but no, all his arguments are reasoned and nonjudgmental. Indeed, his portrayal of Eric Prince the company founder is complimentary. He tells us that Mr. Prince came from a very wealthy and successful family, but chose to join the military. While in the military, he excelled as a Navy Seal, and would have remained as such but gave it up to support his ailing wife and their children. The first Mrs. Prince died in tragic circumstances shortly after.
Not content to bask in considerable family wealth, Prince emulated his successful father by starting a business. The business he chose was one of which he had expert knowledge. He identified a need for military and law enforcement training and established a state of the art training facility at North Carolina.
It is then that sinister opportunities presented themselves in the form of the Iraq war. Blackwater were not alone in exploiting this opportunity ― they were just better at it than others were. The Bush administration identified a benefit in employing civilian contractors in a variety of functions previously carried out by the military. From a certain perspective it worked very well and like Topsy it grow’d until the number of civilian contractors almost equaled the military.
Using civilian contractors checks many boxes. There are considerable financial benefits to companies and individuals. There are benefits for government with fewer political problems than there might be with serving military. Activities can be pursued beyond the public glare. However, in all this there is one thing missing ― military discipline and legal restraint. Scahill describes how Blackwater was able to slip between the rock of military discipline and the hard place of the law. In a time of left of center politics, a rightwing mercenary army numbering around 30,000, is ominous indeed.
This is a truly excellent book, and should be read by everyone who wants to really know what is happening on the ground in Iraq, and elsewhere ― including mainland USA.