Blackwater USA, the security firm now called “Xe,” has recently ended its six-year mission to protect American diplomats in the Iraqi war theater.  It was a dangerous task, with tumultuous ups-and-downs, but despite its detractors, Blackwater should emerge from Iraq with its head held high.  Private military companies (PMCs) -- particularly Blackwater USA -- are among the most efficient humanitarian organizations in business.

 

So why is there such hysteria over the ascendance of private security corporations like Blackwater?  Private contractors abroad supply everything from food to showerheads for their military employers.  They help train indigenous security forces, secure refineries, defend grids, protect envoys, and safeguard the elected parliamentarians of the host government.  And yes, they bring in the big bucks.

But are these demonized “war profiteers” any more or less amoral than, say, a cardiologist, who addresses, and by extension profits from the treatment of heart disease?  What about a clean-up conglomerate which rebuilds towns devastated by natural disaster?  Why would a war theater be an exception to the rule, the one realm in which this code of conduct does not apply?

When individuals condemn the likes of Blackwater, and speak dismissively that corporations that provide a needed service through the selling of that service, actually gain revenue -- thereby being able to continue providing that service -- it is an unfair criticism of something that need not be criticized.  It recalls the old Marxist fib that suggests history is only the tale of calculated material pursuit, not the narrative of human emotion, pride, and fear.

One should merely think of PMCs as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on steroids.  When business was best, there were approximately 129,000 contractors in Iraq, comprising some 28 different companies and multiple nationalities.  Only 4,600 contractors served in defensive combat roles (and only an estimated 990 of which were from Blackwater).  In a war theater where hundreds of thousands of combatants took up arms, on both sides, for more than half of a decade, is it fair to suggest that the media placed unwarranted attention on the role of approximately 990 Blackwater employees?

 

One of the concerns regarding PMCs is their supposed “unregulated” role in military affairs; namely, the worry that private contractors are not bound by the classical laws of war.  It is true that PMCs are not bound by the traditional Uniform Code of Military Justice.  But it is wrong to claim Blackwater and other PMCs operate outside the purview of legitimate oversight: 

 

It is the Iraqi interior ministry -- under Coalition Provisional Authority Memorandum 17, approved by three successive Iraqi cabinets -- to which they were, and are, legally bound.  The memorandum entails PMCs cannot be tried under Iraqi law for actions required to fulfill their contract with the Iraqi government.  Needless to say, rape, murder, sex abuse, smugglings, etc., are not” required actions.”  Therefore, PMCs could be tried under Iraqi law for any misbehavior (or under the military territorial jurisdiction act, or the war crimes act, or the victims of trafficking and violence protection act, and so on).

 

In addition, the Iraqi parliament was always free to eject the defense firm from their country.  Is this not the height of legitimate accountability: permitting the indigenous to fire whom we hire?

 

Worrying over each PMC transgression is like requesting the banishment of the AMA for each failed surgery.  When a drunken contactor shot and killed Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s personal protector, he was fired and flown to the U.S. for trial.  The legal loopholes that PMCs present should not cause us undue concern. 

Contrast this self-audit and regulatory oversight -- under the auspices of the host state, to the slew of U.N. “peacekeeping” scandals (sexual abuse, rape, etc.) in places like Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Hired security firms, on the other hand, have made short work of insurrectionists in Sierra Leone, ensuring their first free elections in a decade; they have assisted the Angolan military to quell a seemingly endless insurgency; and they have come to the aid of Croatians to stop Serbian butchery in its tracks.

 

Now that Blackwater is leaving Iraq, we can look back at their tactical performance as well.  After an enraged mob hacked four Blackwater agents to bits, hanging their limbs from a Fallujah bridge, a half-dozen contractors proved their grit a week later in Najaf by defending the Coalition Authority’s headquarters, authoritatively mowing down dozens of mask-clad follower’s of Muqtada al Sadr.  Appropriately enough, the exhibition occurred near the world’s largest cemetery.

The Najaf scuffle exemplified the kind of professionalism one would expect from former Army Rangers, Navy SEALs and Green Beret commandos.  Even Blackwater’s most zealous critics have trouble denying its tactical prowess and cost-efficiency; author and counterinsurgency expert Thomas X. Hammes, a vocal opponent of the company, has referred to Blackwater as “an extraordinarily professional organization, and they [do] exactly what they [are] tasked to do.”


Blackwater and similar PMCs represent an industrial defense capacity which has repeatedly saved the United States since our inception.  Had Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton) not constructed twenty fluid catalytic units or a gaseous diffusion plant, World War II may have lasted well into the 1950s.

What is the military, after all, other than an institution that like many institutions, out-sources many of its responsibilities -- research, testing, investment, construction, etc. -- to profit-making corporations?  And while Western military power alone is not a sufficient barometer of morality, it is a clear indicator of a more proven system that transforms private ingenuity into public necessity, championing innovation and introspection over archaic tradition, and secular inquiry over dogmatic ritual. 

 

Throughout its time in Iraq, Blackwater embodied this spirit successfully: its company’s employees should be proud of the work they did.

 

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