The business of war: Blackwater takes us down a well-traveled road...
James P. Pinkerton
Newsday, Oct. 14, 2007
Only this: Blackwater is what America wanted. Even if few Americans had ever heard of the company until recently, most voters generally have supported the decades-long bipartisan trend toward government downsizing, "reinvention" and outright privatization. Founded in 1997 and first funded by the Clinton administration, Blackwater, for better or worse, is a perfect emblem for entrepreneurial America.
President Bush likes this policy direction, even if he fails to understand its implications. On the one hand, he speaks of the "global war on terror" as "the work of generations." Yet, on the other, there's little evidence of genuine mobilization for such an extended struggle.
So are we serious about fighting our wars, and managing our "low-intensity conflicts," or not? The answer is: "Yes, but ..." That is, yes, we want to be able to project force, but we want to do so in a "modern" way. And these days, "modern" means "businesslike." The old language of civic sacrifice has been displaced by a new utilitarian lingo of cost-benefit analysis.
Of course, that's increasingly the way the country operates. Pop stars and athletes make millions of dollars a year; fans are in on it, too, following news of big paychecks as closely as they track gigs and games.
By contrast, a sergeant in the Army with eight years of service, including a few combat tours, might make $30,000. What sort of message does that send to young people sorting out their career options? Happily, plenty choose to stay in uniform, but many eventually find the private sector irresistible.
Blackwater is one such career option. In a recent session convened by the American Spectator magazine, Prince made a CEO-ish pitch for his company. Using modern non-bureaucratic management techniques, such as differential pay for differential skills and performance, Blackwater can, he says, deliver more value for the taxpayers.
And what of those shootings in Iraq? Well, that's off the record. Suffice it to say that Prince is fully aware of the investigators and litigators circling his company, and yet the one-time Navy SEAL, has no intention of bowing down.
The "surge" notwithstanding, the Blackwater man sees no decrease in the number of attacks on his teams in Iraq. Yet, even more startlingly, he declares that American troops "should not be on the ground for more than 90 days." That is, after that much time, GIs are sure to wear out their welcome.
Some might say it's good for Prince's business for even more war-fighting to be privatized. But his suggested "term limiting" of American military occupation is an implicit criticism of the Bush administration, which hopes to see troops in Iraq for decades to come.
In fact, Americans aren't likely to stay in Iraq too much longer; there aren't many Muslim places where Christian soldiers are welcomed. And that's the best argument for using contractors: If we find ourselves in murky situations, it's probably better to deploy shadowy companies, avoiding the Stars and Stripes bannered overhead.
For missions in a "long twilight struggle," what's a better name than Blackwater?