Our Ms. Brooks
This week's fatal Baghdad shooting involving Blackwater employees drew fresh attention to U.S. reliance on private security contractors. (The incident, which sparked angry protests from the Iraqi government, left 11 Iraqis dead.) But despite the renewed controversy, most media coverage of the role of private contractors has focused on relatively mundane issues -- the legal vacuum in which contractors operate in Iraq, for instance -- and missed the true blockbuster story: the wholesale privatization of war and U.S. foreign policy.
When I say that the legal vacuum in which contractors operate is a relatively mundane issue, I don't mean that it's unimportant. It's not. In the absence of clear rules and accountability mechanisms for contractors, abuses -- from waste and fraud to assault, torture and murder -- are inevitable. As an editorial in this paper noted on Wednesday: "The massive, poorly regulated, poorly controlled and even downright secretive outsourcing of key military and security jobs to private contractors has gone too far. Congress is overdue for some oversight." That's right -- but it's a major understatement.
What's been happening in Iraq -- and in Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia and the Pentagon and the State Department -- goes far beyond the "outsourcing of key military and security jobs." For years, the administration has been quietly auctioning off U.S. foreign policy to the highest corporate bidder -- and it may be too late for us to buy it back. [Emphasis added]
We are outsourcing our government, which is horrendous enough, but we are doing so with no pretense of accountability or oversight. Apparently this administration believes that none is necessary when it comes to Blackwater.
Blackwater increasingly promises to do everything the U.S. government can do, but better. Blackwater's facility in North Carolina is the world's largest private military facility -- it's so good that the U.S. military uses it for training. Since its founding, it has trained 50,000 "consultants" who can be deployed anywhere in the world. With no geographical limits, the company is eager to prove its value. Blackwater has trained police in Afghanistan and naval commandos in Azerbaijan, and it sent heavily armed employees to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They started off offering their services as volunteers -- or vigilantes, some critics said. FEMA, playing catch-up, followed with contracts, as did a number of other agencies.
Increasingly, Blackwater looks like a miniature government. It has people, infrastructure and hardware. For instance, it is buying Brazilian-made fighter bombers -- great in combat but not really necessary if you're merely providing civilian bodyguards.
Ms. Brooks is right: that's the real story, and it's shameful that the US media and Congress hasn't been looking into it.
Labels: Government Contractors