From the archive: American Mercenaries of Public Diplomacy

With Blackwater in the news again, this is an excellent time to highlight some previous posts on a subject I used to devote a significant amount of my time on. 

From Oct 2006: American Mercenaries of Public Diplomacy was a post preceding a series of discussions and a movie screening I put together exploring the impact of security contractors on America’s image in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The post was written in the third person – “they will look at” – because at the time I was still blogging anonymously.)

In “contested” spaces such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (inside Pakistan actually), Philippines, Colombia (don’t forget the American contractors still held there), Africa (West, East, you name it), the Balkans, etc., private military companies and their contractors carry out the will of the President. Perhaps more importantly and clearly less recognized is the direct and lasting impact these contractor have on the local populations they interact with. … In the case of Iraq, the private military industry is frequently in the “last three feet” of contact with the Iraqi public. Waving guns, driving the wrong way and ready to pop a round into a radiator of a “deserving” vehicle in a (appropriately) paranoid environment (see the US Army view of this activity in Afghanistan), they operate with immunity (relative or actual) and radically and substantially alter Iraqi public opinion of Americans and America by their behavior. These contractors do not wear the uniform of the US military and yet this “Coalition of the Billing” directly represents the US and the “Coalition” whether we like it or not.

The follow up on the events — the after action report — is available here.

From Dec 2006: Public Diplomacy by Proxy looked at the perceived deniable accountability of using contractors to foreign and domestic publics and Congress. It also includes a quote from Karen Hughes.

Afforded perceived deniable accountability back to the White House for private military activities allows a freer hand in engagement policies extending military options in foreign policy without Congressional or public oversight. Clumsy attempts by the civilian leadership to use private military forces as indirect ambassadors and instruments of American foreign policy are paid back with public and embarrassing actions such as those portrayed in the Los Angeles Times article, among many now appearing with increasing frequency in mainstream media.

This Administration really does not get it, as this story about how undersecretary of state for public diplomacy Karen Hughes “believes that how we treat prisoners in the ‘global war on terror’ is unlikely to have a serious adverse affect on how people think of the United States.” [A Morocco Times] should be on Hughes’ reading list, but it probably isn’t. It should be on Rice’s too, but she clearly is not concerned with other points of view, believing foreign policy stems for isolated national interest and “not from the interests of an “illusory international community”.

From Aug 2006: Custer Battles is Guilty, maybe not of fraud, but at least of treason was about CB’s blatant sabotage of our mission for financial gain and indicative of the larger obfuscation and distance intended by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

While not guilty of fiscally defrauding the US Government, a US private military company is guilty of defrauding the American project in Iraq to almost treasonous depths by contributing to the recruiting messages of our enemy: Americans don’t care and are just here for the money.

From May 2007: Holding Security Contractors Accountable.

There is an underlying assumption that contractors, security or otherwise, are part of a functioning principal-agent relationship. Too often this is not the case and the agent does not see itself as an auxiliary of the principal (the US / Coalition) but as some kind of affiliate with an increased independence than should be permitted. There is not enough incentive, positive or otherwise, to compel or encourage the contractor to fully and wholly support the principal’s mission.

From Oct 2007: Mercenaries: Useless and Dangerous? It is a matter of choice.

As much as I hate to hear Machiavelli’s warning against mercenaries regurgitated without so much as a fundamental understanding of the realities of his time and place, and more important after his time and place, recent revelations that the Department of State willingly allowed Blackwater to use aggressive tactics to “keep the Diet Pepsi from spilling” resonates deeply with the real intent of the Secretary. The irony almost drips from the media reporting on State’s culpability in Blackwater’s tactics that virtually incited the Iraqi public against the mission.

As I have written about many times here (and here and more generally here), blaming the companies themselves, especially after four years of rules-free or as we are learning now protected behavior (versus simply ignoring the behavior), is foolish. MountainRunner friend Singer ably points out that Congress is either ignorant or, well, ignorant…

Also from Oct 2007: The Cost of Keeping the Principal off the X (Updated) is about the Nisoor Square incident in Baghdad in September 2007.

Does anybody else found it disturbing that the Department that contains the US Public Diplomacy apparatus, is ostensibly in charge of “winning heats and minds” (used here because they use this phrase), and works with foreign media could be so blind as to ignore the impact of their travel? While they were too busy looking after the forest, they didn’t realize they were poisoning the land on which the trees grow.

Their aggressive posture, fueled in part by IEDs, was more than condoned but encouraged. Blackwater did their job: they kept their principals of the X and nobody they were charged with protecting died.

And of course, there’s Beyond Government Accountability: a challenging look at Peacekeepers.

The relationship between peacekeeping forces (PKFs) and the U.N. Security Council mimics the relationship between a private military or security company and the country in question. The Security Council negotiates with U.N. members to contribute to PKOs, most often in the stead of the five permanent Security Council members who actually make the decision to deploy military observers, police, and troops. The General Assembly does not authorize or oversee PKFs, but it is tasked to operate on the behalf of the Security Council. … In the post-Cold War environment, downsized Western militaries are less able to participate in PKOs owing to capacity limits as well as domestic politics. To fill the gap, the Security Council increasingly turns to developing nations (formerly known as “Third World”) countries to deploy to regions that have little direct significance to the contributing country.

For more, see other posts filed under Private Military Companies.

One thought on “From the archive: American Mercenaries of Public Diplomacy

  1. The Pentagon NOR the State Department have any legitimate business hiring mercenaries, budget-wise OR ethics-wise, or for that matter any other ‘wise’But no worries for Erik Prince’s illegitimate fortune (Is Waxman still investigating their gun-running ops?), between their recent pitch aimed at NGOs and this, Blackwater will do fine without the US government:
    “Private security firm Blackwater Worldwide began holding meetings in London on Tuesday with potential clients for a new business venture — protection from pirates.
    The Moyock, N.C., firm, which has grown rapidly through State Department security work in Iraq, has been courting shippers and insurance firms about protecting ships in pirate-infested waters. It’s meeting with more than a dozen firms this week and hopes to drum up its first contract.”
    Blackwater already has a ship it says could be deployed abroad to scare off or even challenge pirates: the 183-foot McArthur, which the company bought in 2006. It can carry two helicopters as well as rigid-hull inflatable boats favored by naval commandoes, and 30 guards in addition to a crew of 15. Blackwater’s database of contractors includes former Navy SEALs and Coast Guard personnel.
    “Its primary goal would be one of deterrence, that’s the idea here,” said Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell. The company would prefer to keep its guards aboard its own ship because of legal uncertainties. “We would be allowed to fire if fired upon; the right of self-defense is one that exists in international waters,” she said.”
    Wall Street Journal (H/t to Thomas P.M. Barnett)

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