The Evergreen Review
February 13, 2009
Blackwater Worldwide’s days of roaming Iraqi streets with impunity are over. The State Department decided against renewing the government’s contract with the notoriously trigger-happy mercenary force last month after the Iraqi government announced its revocation of Blackwater’s operating license. Considered the epitome of America’s reckless exploitation efforts in post-war Iraq, Blackwater’s infiltration into the war effort is symbolic of America’s rampant privatization efforts of the past quarter-century.
Before the current economic collapse, nearly every aspect of American life was placed under siege by privatization efforts – schools, social security, health care, prisons and even the military. Tasks inherent to a nation-state were outsourced to private firms that accumulated millions in taxpayer funds and turned Iraq into their own personal sandbox.
Once an obscure paramilitary company based in North Carolina, Blackwater became infamous when a handful of its employees allegedly opened fire on a congested Baghdad traffic intersection without provocation. The incident left the corpses of 17 Iraqi civilians bleeding in the streets and strained U.S. relations with Iraq.
Despite the best efforts of the Pentagon to create a legal loophole for defense contractors, five of the Blackwater employees involved in the bloody shootout were indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury last December. Each indicted member is facing 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter.
Critiquing the recourse of the Blackwater guards will accomplish nothing. Iraq is a “shoot first and ask questions later” place. Instead, Americans should be alarmed by the menacing iron triangle – the policy-making apparatus consisting of the bureaucracy, legislative committees, and interest groups – that turned Blackwater into Bush’s Praetorian Guard.
In the eyes of the Bush administration, Iraq was an incredible success. They turned the American war machine into a profitable industry, and Blackwater was at the forefront of this capitalist nexus. Chronicles of America’s imperial folly in Iraq are as numerous as they are diverse, but Blackwater’s meteoric rise and fall in Iraq is the coup de grace. Like a parasite sucking blood from its host, Blackwater attached itself to America’s morbid fascination with greed and, as journalist Jeremy Scahill put it, made a killing off the killing in Iraq.
Blackwater’s forces are no longer relegated to the conflict-zones of the Middle East. Erik Prince, Blackwater’s founder, sent his armed militia to the hurricane-ruined streets of New Orleans to suppress looters in the wake of Katrina. Coursing up and down the streets of the French Quarter with loaded assault rifles, the scene was described by Scahill as “Baghdad on the Bayou.” The thought of an ultra-right wing executive protecting the wealthy elite of an American city with his personal paramilitary force sounds like a plot line ripped from the pages of Orwell or Kafka.
In the eyes of Prince, Katrina was an opportunity to diversify. Just like the Wall Street banks that continually find new ways to make money, Blackwater found a crisis and exploited it – disaster capitalism at its worst. President Dwight Eisenhower warned about the increased influence of the military-industrial complex in his farewell address, but not even Eisenhower could foresee the ominous encroachment of private military firms on domestic soil.
Many people find Blackwater to be an old story – a relic of Bush’s Iraq fiasco. However, as Blackwater’s final days in Iraq come to a close, the nation’s new president needs to be reminded that he is accountable to the people, not to the war profiteers of the military-industrial complex. The emergence of America’s mercenary army should serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when capitalist might collides with militant ideologues.