Blackwater Enters the Presidential Debate

From the moment I raised my right arm and swore allegiance to my country and the Constitution which has guided us since it was penned, a weight was placed on my shoulders. Although it was a heavy weight, it was not uncomfortable, and something inside me...changed, I guess you could say.

That weight was responsibility. When I joined the Army, I was no longer a "citizen", I became the finger on the hand of the arm of the U.S. Constitution. I also had no doubt that my behavior could either strengthen or weaken that Constitution's influence, even if only to a minute degree. But that understanding was there. My years in service taught me the true meaning of some other words, like: honor, integrity, fidelity, loyalty and many others. But responsibility was an overriding and tangible entity in my mind, and it shaped me into the man I am today.

The reason I spent so much time exploring that link between the Constitution and the Joe (or Jane) toting a rifle in whatever God-forsaken hel...exotic and interesting place our government has decided to send them, is because that link is often the only real evidence foreign peoples can see of the value of our form of Democracy as embodied in our Constitution. We can talk about it until we're blue in the face, but if our behavior contradicts what we're saying, we might as well be grinding that Constitution into the mud under our boot.

Which brings me to the subject of Blackwater U.S.A. and other private mercenary outfits, and how their missing link to the Constitution is eroding the causes of freedom and Democracy in the world, and possibly even here at home. Also—this is not really a "candidate" diary, although I expect it to be treated as such by many who view it as a "dig" at their fave. This is more an attempt to sway the growing number of pragmatists who see the deployment of mercenaries as a necessary evil, and just something that "bears watching".

There appears to be a flap developing between Obama and Hillary over Blackwater etal, and I'm not sure how it will settle out. From an article in the Nation:

A senior foreign policy adviser to leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has told The Nation that if elected Obama will not "rule out" using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq. The adviser also said that Obama does not plan to sign on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of these forces in US war zones by January 2009, when a new President will be sworn in. Obama's campaign says that instead he will focus on bringing accountability to these forces while increasing funding for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the agency that employs Blackwater and other private security contractors.

Okay, so this excerpt has already been posted ad nauseum across the Intertubes, and you're probably tired of reading it. But look at the part I bolded. The State Department has already awarded over a billion dollars to Blackwater alone to deploy mercenaries in Iraq, and the guy who I've been steadily leaning towards (sorry) proposes to throw more money in that direction? Hire more Federal security for State that will be directly responsible to the Constitution, but don't just up their funding. Even considering this statement:

Obama's proposed increase in funding to the diplomatic security division would ostensibly pave the way for a protective force composed entirely of US government personnel

the easiest route for State would be to continue business as usual.

On the flipside, this is what Jeremy Scahill has to say about Hillary's (sudden?) anti-Blackwater stance:

A day after this story went live on TheNation.com, Senator Hillary Clinton, whose staff refused for a week to answer my questions about her position on private security forces, released a statement announcing that Clinton is now co-sponsoring legislation to "ban the use of Blackwater and other private mercenary firms in Iraq," saying, "The time to show these contractors the door is long past due."

Why February 28, in the middle of a tough political campaign? Why not after last September's Nisour Square massacre, when Blackwater operatives killed seventeen Iraqi civilians? Or, better, before it? Regardless, this makes Clinton the most significant US political figure to date to issue such a call. We will be monitoring closely how much of a legislative priority this becomes for Senator Clinton.

Frankly, the entrance of Blackwater into the Presidential debate is long past due. But it's here now, and I hope it stays. It is a critical matter, and one that needs to be dealt with decisively.

As a final note, I want to talk about the actual guys filling the boots for Blackwater etal. The vast majority of them came from the elite ranks of our military, and no doubt were imbued with the same sense of responsibility I spoke of earlier. But how long can that sense of responsibility remain without the Constitutional link? I don't know, and I'm sure it varies depending on the individual. I do know that their recruitment into the private sector has weakened our Special Operations capabilites, as those units have historically relied on experienced non-coms to supervise the near-constant training of the younger guys.

This trend needs to be reversed, or we will eventually lose that burden of responsibility that our Constitution relies upon to be more than just a piece of parchment.

Comments

Crossposted at Kos.

Stop on by if you're in the neighborhood.

Thank you for writing this.

Obama needs to clarify his views on this immediately. I'm not a single issue voter, but I promise ... I will not work for a candidate who will not take a clear stand against the privatization of war.

My message to the Obama campaign today

I want someone from the campaign who can get Obama to clarify his position on mercenaries and armed contractors working on behalf of the US government. I’m asking because I will withdraw my offer to help raise money if he stands by his statements as currently reported.

A senior foreign policy adviser to leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has told The Nation that if elected Obama will not "rule out" using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq. The adviser also said that Obama does not plan to sign on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of these forces in US war zones by January 2009, when a new President will be sworn in. Obama's campaign says that instead he will focus on bringing accountability to these forces while increasing funding for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the agency that employs Blackwater and other private security contractors.

I’m certainly not a single issue voter by any stretch, but this is my cause for 2008. And while I’ll certainly vote for Obama in both the primary and the general, I won’t work for him unless he clarifies the statements. A simple shift of the date to January 2010 would satisfy me – and he should offer that compromise immediately.

Just so you know, this statement alone could cost Obama a huge proportion of the military vote he could have gained by being clearly anti-mercenary.

interesting to see if you get a response, James.

Since the "ground game" is gearing up in NC, perhaps you will hear something. I can imagine a candidate not wanting to piss off armed para-military stormtroopers, but if Marshall Adame has the guts to call them what they are, and say they have no place in our defense, then Obama should be able to do it, too.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

I'm not a single-issue voter either,

but this is not only about Iraq, it's about foreign policy in general, and how we approach problem-solving and engagement.

It's much easier to deploy mercenaries into situations where our involvement is questionable, because not nearly as many questions are raised that might cause politicians to step lightly. The more we move away from taking responsibility for our actions, the less those actions will reflect our stated positions, and that is a recipe for disaster.

We may get out of Iraq and never solve this problem

If we aren't very careful and vigilant I'm afraid we could get out of Iraq and still have the mercenary military problem completely unaddressed, and liable to come back to haunt us.

I don't have much confidence in Hillary or Barack ending the reliance on private military personnel, because it's just too attractive a quick fix for politicians of both parties. Instead of making the big, continuous appropriations that people don't like to maintain an adequate regular military, it's so much easier to hide the real cost, cut corners, and bring in the Beltway bandits (actually at much higher costs per soldier and per task)when a conflict happens. Of course that's even worse when you're planning to instigate a conflict, and want to hide the real cost in order to sell the idea.

I can imagine a Democratic president, even Obama, keeping the mercenaries like Blackwater on speed-dial in case a police action or what have you should happen and turn violent. We really need to press this one and kill the snake.

We really need to press this one and kill the snake.

Amen. Very glad to have another voice here expressing concern about the Blackwater evil.

The inertia and "options" you talk about are one of the reasons I want to fight this on the state front as well as in Congress.

J

PS David Price is the head of the Appropriations Committee on Homeland Security. He could single-handled (almost) ensure that no US Government Taxpayer dollars may be spent on private contractors who carry weapons. They have to be government employees.

You're right about that/also the counter-argument

You're right about Representative Price. It's a little unclear, but I think it was his putting his foot down as subcommittee chair, and also John Warner's retirement, that finally killed the OLF in Beaufort-Washington-Hyde.

I do not agree that this is a good idea, but I do think it's true that bringing back the draft probably would end the private military personnel problem. This is a valid argument, but I do think that the volunteer military is superior to a draft. Our armed forces of today are more effective than conscripted militaries of the past; we can even see that in Iraq in the segments of the conflict when the military has been deployed sensibly. And I do think that the military is a positive institution on the whole for its members if you exclude recent perversions of it.

Correct

Congressman Price was the big nail in the OLF coffin. He used the big hammer of appropriations to drive it home.

I will not stand for a Democratic President that will

continue the ruinous ways of the obvious failure of the President that came before.

IF Senator Obama is so blind that he is unaware of the progressive Democratic members absolute need to disavow the private military (aka mercinaries) that our current administration has put into play in America, then I am so wide-eyed-ready to disavow his existance as a possible President of my country.

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!

I agree completely....

but I'd go a step farther. We need to re institute the draft...now! If our military is to work it has to represent a cross-section of America...not just the disadvantaged or uncertain who join as a way out of their dilemma. Shared sacrifice and responsibility is what draws this nation together and binds us into an unbeatable force.

Stan Bozarth

The draft will not work

again in this country. The "elites" of the country will insure their sons AND daughters do not have to go or are placed out of harms way.

Only if the draft goes blindly after everyone will it have a chance to work.

You mentioned cross-section.....in today's military, their are very junior people with Associate and Bachelor degrees. The only people the military is missing is the elite crop.

The military needs more people to sign up. Hopefully it stays an all vol service. However, with whole communities with the Berkley attitude (throw the Marine Corps recruiters out of our town) we will soon have the draft back.

That will be a very sad day for America when we bring back the draft. It will be a sadder day when it is shown how the rich or elite will be able to keep their loved ones from serving.

Then again, that WILL be a "true" representation or cross-section of the country. The elites do not have to share in the burdens of the country, only the spoils.

I agree.

Only if the draft goes blindly after everyone will it have a chance to work.

That is also why i don't believe a "national service" will work, because guess who will get the position at the local food bank and who will get to walk point on some anonymous foreign street?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

If the "elite"

are allowed to escape or to always serve in safe places/jobs then the draft will be imperfect...as it has been in the past. We should make sure everyone...regardless of their parentage or position...serves like everyone else.

However, even if imperfect, it at least accomplishes a greater degree of shared sacrifice and affects more people in our society...which then leads to greater unity or greater unrest...whichever is appropriate for the time.

I suspect that if the draft had been in place we would not have invaded Iraq.

Stan Bozarth

The draft would not have stopped Iraq 2

The Senators and Congressman would have seen to it that their children would not be on the ground. However, that poor guy/girl down the street would be out there patrolling the street being fired at or stepping on IUDs.

Those fools in Congress would not have cared about our kids. They would still have voted for this war without asking for a exit strategy up front. None of them who voted for granting the pres the ability to start hostilities asked for plan of before, during and after.

With an all vol military, Congress did not care about protecting the military. With a bunch of drafties forced to serve? Those people would not have stood a chance. Congress would not have spent the money needed to protect these drafties, to train them, to do anything for them except grease them up for cannon fodder.

Dam my mode is very sour today.

I'm against compulsory service

for a number of reasons, but you're comparing apples and oranges when you make this assumption:

With a bunch of drafties forced to serve? Those people would not have stood a chance.

Congress was/is complicit in the misuse of our military in Iraq, but so are the American people as a whole.

A year after the invasion, when it was abundantly clear that Bush and his advisors had been horribly wrong in their predictions of a swift victory and a steady march towards Democracy in Iraq, we put him back in office for four more years. Think about that.

God help me for saying it, but there's a whole lot of evidence that points to the conclusion that: the average American doesn't give a shit what happens to our military people. Thanks to their volunteer status, they are expendable and "knew what they were getting into".

If we did have a draft, at least most Americans would pay closer attention to what was done with the "involuntary" recruits, and maybe be less likely to be "talked into" a war based on thin evidence and anger.

very good observation!

If we did have a draft, at least most Americans would pay closer attention to what was done with the "involuntary" recruits, and maybe be less likely to be "talked into" a war based on thin evidence and anger.

An very good alternate and accurate view as seen from the average American. I could see myself in that thought process now that it was brought to my attention. Thank you!

While I think most folks believe that Congress and the Pres will actually care for our boys and girls thus they will not actively look at what might be happening. No way would Congress or the Pres actually allow our kids to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. They believe and trust Congress and the Pres to do the right thing. I would hope Congress and people would take a better look at the state of affairs for the military and the drafties....Alas, Viet Nam shows that would not be the case. The military fighting and dying in a war that we would not win. Iraq 2 would be Viet Nam 2 if we have drafties in this war.

I was basing my thoughts on the Elitests point of view who are for the most part in decision making positions. Their children and family members are not in the military at the pointy end of the spear. To their way of thinking, the drafties would be the scum and poor of the country. Who cares what happens to them.

If they are willing to abuse our troops now, just think if they thought they had "those" people in the service. Those people would be expendable. We would be doing a service to the country if those people were gone. Hell, most of them are going to end up in jail anyways. At least we got some use out of em. That to me, is an Elitiests point of view.

Blackwater calls themselves "elite"

however I think they would scatter like proverbial cockroaches if they had to fight in the trenches with everyone else, accept the same wages and rules of the real military.

This subject really needs the light of day!

I always thought this would be the route taken by US presidents after Reagan signed to repeal the draft system. And Iraq has really been at the zenith of this 'problem'. Here we have 130,000 trooops who are accountable to our Congress, but then there is that many who are not.(the mercenary army) As Stan said, we would not have invaded Iraq if the draft was still in effect. But desk jockies, and bean counters can always be adventurous when they can play war games with hired guns. But I think we pretty much knew that McCain and Clinton would not be against having a clandestine army, although they deny it. But Obama, always speaking in generalities, surprises by letting us see that imperialist side. I don't know if this mercenary thing can be stopped, but the place to do it has to be where the appropriations are made. (House)

It can and will be stopped

Appropriations is a good start. David Price is the chair of the appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security. Perhaps he's willing to push this ahead.

Skip Stam's Glass is Half Full

After promising to recruit in every district, Stam has come up half short with Republicans running in 34 of 68 Democratic House districts. Rather than admit that he has left his successor some room for improvement, Stam is now bragging to the press about the huge increase of GOP warm bodies who have bothered to show up to file.

Last year the GOP fielded 31 Republicans in Democratic districts (every last one of whom lost!). 34 - 31 = 3. So what Skim Stam calls a huge increase, the rest of us know as half of half a dozen (half full indeed).

- - - - -
The GOP will try to suppress the vote in 2008.

What an idiot.

Can't even count.

J

PS Thanks for shining a light on the R talking points Jerimee.

no wonder

No wonder he has such "great" ideas about what the state budget should look like.

Vote Ridpath.

"Keep the Faith"

"Keep the Faith"

Without even hitting the link

I can guess it is the puppy tosser.

That shit deserves jail time, bunking with a few pissed-off dog-lovers.

Dog-lovers in Iraq

There was a very touching piece on WUNC yesterday about the servicemen who train dogs for bomb sniffing and such. As always often happens, dogs are man's best friends in war. You could really hear the adoration in the man's voice.

I always cry when I think about the military dogs that were left behind when our troops pulled out of Vietnam.

They were heroes too.

He deserves what he gave the puppy.

Over and over again. Asshole.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi