Blackwater being rather topical, I thought I’d find out something about who or what Blackwater is. In the last couple of days, CNN has been bursting with stories about the reported activities of Blackwater employees, with the shooting of Iraqi civilians being only the cherry on a large unsavoury cake.
On 2 August, James Meek, writing in The London Review of Books reviewed “Blackwater: The Rise of the Worldâ€™s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” by Jeremy Scahill, thus showing an impressive degree of prescience regarding their future news value.
Even in this privatisation-hardened age, even in the United States, the notion that military installations are a monopoly of government remains so ingrained that in 2003, when the Chilean-American arms go-between JosÃ© Miguel Pizarro Ovalle first saw the real-world mercenary processing centre run by the private firm Blackwater in North Carolina, he had to reach for the imagery of Cubby Broccoli. â€˜Itâ€™s a private army in the 21st century,â€™ he gushed to Jeremy Scahill.
The whole tone of the article refers constantly to the fantasy James Bond villain-style of the organistion
It is a private military base, spread over seven thousand acres, near the town of Moyock and the Great Dismal Swamp, with firing ranges, tactical exercise areas and an armoury (containing more than a thousand weapons, according to the Virginian-Pilot, the local newspaper, though there is no law preventing Blackwater stocking as many as it wants)
The book relates how a public sector contractor became a private sector nation-state without (much of) a landmass.
it was the al-Qaida attacks of 11 September 2001, and the subsequent US intervention in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq, that turned the taxpayer cash flow from a dribble to a high-pressure jet of dollars. It also gave Blackwater the chance to transform itself from a company that trained government employees to shoot into a company that supplied its own, private shooters for service anywhere in the world.
Al-Qaida attacks may have been tough on the victims but they were the perfect business opportunity to Blackwater. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as the old saying goes.
Someone needs to explain the whole philosophy of privatisation to me again. I naively assumed the general argument is that state-run companies don’t have to compete and so provide inefficient services and so on.
So it must be that the US Government started to feel that its boring old state monopoly army wasn’t customer-focussed enough. Someone thought “What this army needs is some competition.”
What a brilliant idea. Why not carry on and have dozens of customer focussed go-ahead armies, focussed on the bottom line, rather than old concepts like the nation state, which admittedly have hardly distinguished themselves in practice.
And there’s more of a plus. They could compete between themselves to carry out contracts. The cut and thrust of the marketplace needn’t just be a metaphor. They can start shooting it out over who gets to rule the next bit territory. Last company with a surviving chief executive wins. Bidding wars over contracts can become non-metaphorical.
As well as its cutting edge customer-focus, it’s not without a noble historical precedent, either. Every other minor lord could call a few hundred disposable peasants to back them up in medieval times. And they were so peaceful, weren’t they? Hey nonny no.
Companies can send any junior executives without a hope of becoming CEOs to the Middle East to take territory there. There are so many pre-modern echoes here it feels a bit like stepping into a VR Crusades museum.
Actually, I’ve just remembered that some experimental organisations like this have already been established among the civilian populations. I believe they are called gangs.