Moderates and Mercenaries

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A couple of news items that caught my eye:

Moderate or Else — The military is providing instruction in Islam to its prisoners in Iraq.  They’ve brought in moderate mullahs to convert radical detainees into moderates.  According to the man in charge, they’re making headway.  I appreciate the effort, but . . . seriously?  I just have a hard time imagining it actually works.  I mean, how seriously would you take forced instruction in your religion, sponsored and directed by a foreign power that doesn’t believe in, understand, or even respect your religion?  Especially when the contents of that instruction are that, lo and behold, contrary to everything you’ve ever been taught by the people you love and trust, your religion teaches that you should be nice to that same foreign power?  Thoughts?

Global Conflict of Interest — Mitt Romney has hired Cofer Black, former high-ranking CIA and State Dept. spook and now a vice president at Blackwater, a huge military contracting firm, to head his counter-terrorism policy team.  Given that Blackwater reaps huge profits from large military deployments like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, does it seem like Mr. Black’s counter-terrorism advice might be just a wee bit self-serving?  More generally, how do you feel about our military’s increased dependence on private-sector companies like Blackwater?  It seems to me there are some very large issues — practical, political, legal, and moral — created by this practice, many of which we’ve already seen become realities in Iraq, and I don’t see anybody coming up with any solutions to them.  I don’t even see much of an effort.  The whole thing is deeply worrying to me.  You?

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14 Responses to “Moderates and Mercenaries”

  1. michaellasley Says:

    Yeahp….the Blackwater thing has bothered me for a while. I didn’t know about it until fairly recently (maybe a book came out on it?). I’m surprised that there isn’t much of an uproar about it. Seems like, if nothing else, the military would be upset about it, seeing as the Blackwater operatives, if I remember correctly, get paid quite a bit more for their services than our military does. And for doing lots of the same things. But….I really don’t know much about it, so maybe that’s not the case.

    The moderate instruction — that’s a good question. How do they messure success in this instruction? And are these prisoners who are to be released anytime soon? (I’ve not have a chance to read the links yet?) If so, then what happens when they get back to their communities of radicals? BUT, and this is coming from not reading anything about this yet, I kind of like the idea — as far as ideas go — for some reason.

  2. michaellasley Says:

    And to answer your actual question about Romney — yes. That seems like a huge conflict of interest. I’m not sure how you can reasonable expect someone in that position to give you objective advice.

  3. GKB Says:

    Eugene Jarecki’s “Why We Fight” does a decent job, I think, of flipping the script. Perhaps the problem is not governments consulting with groups like Blackwater. The problem may lie with groups like Blackwater, Raytheon, McDonnel-Douglas, Boeing, etc., having a government that they can manipulate.

    Are we sure Mr. Romney approached Mr. Black, or did Mr. Black make Mr. Romney an offer he couldn’t refuse?

  4. babykangaroo Says:

    I have no problem with an organization like Blackwater existing and providing security services under government contract. The largest chunk of the military personnel budget is military retirement pay. If the government uses contractors to provide services, the eliminate huge future payments. Paying contractors more now saves money in the future.

    That said… there is a problem with the way Blackwater et. al operate in Iraq. Bremer worked a deal that basically gives immunity to contractors. Any kind of misbehavior or abuse by contractors is met with a pink slip and plane ticket back home. No criminal prosecution or repercussions. Our servicemen and women are held accountable, but these contractors are not. It’s a big point of contention with the Iraqi government.

    I don’t think Romney’s hire is a conflict of interest at all. He went out and got a subject matter expert as an adviser. He went and found someone who knows the threat and deals with it constantly. What’s the big deal with that? It’s an experience hire and nothing more.

  5. Capt. Midknight Says:

    Two interesting stories. Interesting enough, at least, for me to actually read the articles.

    As for the “Moderate or Else” story, I had the same initial reaction as JU, but the guy in charge of the program seems to have a more realistic view than I expected, given that it is a military sponsored effort. His major focus in on the youngest ones – which reminded me of the child solders in “Blood Diamonds. These 11 and 12 year olds who are running messages and planting IEDs when they should be kicking a soccer ball have basically had their childhood stolen, just like the children in some African rebel movements. If this program can help them get back to being kids instead of tiny revolutionaries, more power to it. As for the older ones, it probably depends on whether they are hard core or just “cannon fodder” recruited locally. Even with all the obvious problems, maybe it can do some good. Who knows?

    As far as Romney’s advisor from Blackwater goes, I tend to agree with Babykangaroo to some extent that it is at least someone who should have some “real world” experience with the issue. All too often, political advisors are selected based not so much on their expertise as on their willingness to support a position the politician has already chosen. Do we really expect, for instance, RudyGiuliani to have advisors who advocate an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, or Hillary Clinton to seek out advisors who have serious reservation about a government run Universal Health Care System?
    Too often, people who are involved in making things work in the messy “real world” are excluded from policy deliberations due to what is seen as conflicts of interest – doctors who shouldn’t advise on health care because they make their living from the system, or counter terrorism experts whose companies bid for contracts with the military. As a result, we sometimes end up with programs designed by academics and theoreticians (present academics excepted, of course) that look great in the abstract, they just don’t work in practice. Sort of like one computer genius who said:

    “My computer model is perfect. Reality is flawed.”

    I’m sure this guy from Blackwater has an agenda – who doesn’t? It’ll be up to Romney to keep that in mind when getting his advice. After all, he’s the one running for President. Folks on the other side of the issue and the other end of the political spectrum have agendas too. It only bothers me when some folks get raked over the coals and others, doing the same thing, get a pass.

  6. urbino Says:

    The problem I have with a company like Blackwater, roo, is that the military and a private (or publicly held) corporation are two completely different categories of entities, and they are on completely different legal footings.

    The military is, well, the military. It’s a known quantity, a public institution sworn to serve the country and uphold the Constitution. We know what its interests are, what axes it may be prone to grind, what its strenghts and weaknesses are as a participant in our political discourse. And there are clear limits on its participation in politics; legal limits and limits that are part of the American military’s strongly held traditions. There are legal limits on the domestic use of the military. They also have a clear chain of command that puts them very much under the control of the current civilian government, whoever that may be.

    None of that applies to private corporations.

    Corporations in America, including corporations that function as de facto paramilitaries, have the same legal rights as persons. They can participate in politics all they want. They aren’t subject to strictures on their domestic use. Their loyalty is to their shareholders, not to the country or the Constitution. Their motive is profit, not the preservation of the common good. They do not have a clear chain of command that puts them under the control of civic institutions. They aren’t subject to the same rules of operation as the military.

    They are a huge, profit-seeking, largely extra-legal paramilitary.

    The extra-legality is the part that worries me, and the part that I don’t see anybody trying to address — which suggests to me that people like having these companies be largely outside legal controls; which also worries me.

    Of course, it’s also worrisome to have a whole new sector of defense industry open up. The more people there are in the business of war, the more war we’ll have. ISTM we have too many of both, already.

  7. urbino Says:

    Do we really expect, for instance, RudyGiuliani to have advisors who advocate an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, or Hillary Clinton to seek out advisors who have serious reservation about a government run Universal Health Care System?

    Clearly not. But ISTM there are 2 salient points. Blackwater isn’t in the business of providing healthcare (or toilet paper or shirt buttons or roofing shingles); they’re in the business of controlling people through organized killing and destruction. I think it’s a little too easy to slip into the mindset that a large organization is a large organization is a large organization; the military isn’t the same kind of thing as a Blackwater, and a Blackwater isn’t fungible with a Procter & Gamble or a KaiserPermanente.

    The second point is that while we don’t expect Rudy or Hillary to hire advisors directly at odds with their fundamental beliefs, we do have a right to criticize them if they hire advisors with shady connections — especially ongoing shady connections. For example, nobody’s looking for former Enron executives to hire as energy policy advisors. Blackwater, as roo noted, though not in these words, is just not a respectable corporation right now; at least, it’s not at all clear that they are respectable. In particular, it seems they operate by their own rules and scoff at attempts by democratic governments to regulate them.

    That’s not the kind of company a presidential candidate ought to be associating him- or herself with, if that candidate wants to be seen as entirely above board and respectful of the rule of law. If a candidate wants somebody who helps run a company that operates that way as one of his advisors on military issues, what does that say about him?

  8. urbino Says:

    I agree, btw, that advisors from the private sector can be great and helpful, and can turn out to be excellent public servants. However, that hasn’t been the case much for the past 7 yrs., and Cofer Black looks like a continuation of that pattern.

  9. urbino Says:

    On the article about the military’s religious re-education efforts, yeah, like I said, I appreciate the effort. It just seems . . . odd.

    I posted that one more for general discussion purposes, since religion is a frequent topic here’bouts.

  10. Capt. Midknight Says:

    Blackwater may indeed be in a different league than some of the other corporate players. I don’t know much about them, but it sounds like one of those outfits that makes a great subject for a novelist like Tom Clancy or a reporter for Soldier of Fortune, but gets a little scary in real life.

    I actually saw a book on Blackwater at Barnes and Noble today, but passed it up. The fly leaf sounded a little like a conspiracy theory story. Might have to go back to it though. Some conspiracies are real.

  11. urbino Says:

    I think I’ve seen that book, Cap’n and Mikey (which sounds like the name of a Sat. morning cartoon, btw), but never have looked at it.

    I don’t know that there’s anything particularly secretive/conspiratorial about Blackwater. I mean, it’s public knowledge that they provide mercenary muscle to militaries and private companies; that’s their business. It’s not like they have a cover story or a front or anything.

    It’s just that they and companies like them seem to exist in some legal twilight zone where no rules really apply. When somebody tries to treat them like an ordinary corporation, they point to their military nature and say those rules don’t apply. When somebody tries to treat them like they’re part of the military, they point to their corporate charter and say those rules don’t apply.

  12. michaellasley Says:

    That’s an eery clip, Greg, for _Why We Fight_. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ll have to give it a look-see soon. I don’t know enough about Blackwater to know if they’re manipulating the government, but when so much money is involved in something like this (the war, contracting private security companies), the distinction on who is influencing whom can become blurry.

    JU — good points on why it isn’t a good thing for Romney to hire Black. It’s not as though Black has no interest — monetarily, at the very least — in how things operate in Iraq and in Homeland security. And also about the problems of Blackwater-like companies being in the twilight zone.

    As usual, I’m shamefully underinformed about all things political / war-related. I should really start doing my homework on it.

  13. GKB Says:

    Apologies…I was quite prone to conspiracy theories BEFORE I read Walter Wink, and if his assessment of the ways of the Powers is accurate, we’re all in much more trouble than we realize!

  14. michaellasley Says:

    Oh sure, bring theology into it. Nice, Greg. We like to keep things seperate and in order around here.

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