The Pro-War Undertow of the Blackwater Scandal

The Blackwater scandal has gotten plenty of media coverage, and it deserves a lot more. Taxpayer subsidies for private mercenaries are antithetical to democracy, and Blackwater’s actions in Iraq have often been murderous. But the scandal is unfolding in a U.S. media context that routinely turns criticisms of the war into demands for a better war.

Many politicians are aiding this alchemy. Rhetoric from a House committee early this month audibly yearned for a better war at a highly publicized hearing that featured Erik Prince, the odious CEO of Blackwater USA.

A congressman from New Hampshire, Paul Hodes, insisted on the importance of knowing “whether failures to hold Blackwater personnel accountable for misconduct undermine our efforts in Iraq.” Another Democrat on the panel, Carolyn Maloney of New York, told Blackwater’s top exec that “your actions may be undermining our mission in Iraq and really hurting the relationship and trust between the Iraqi people and the American military.”

But the problem with Blackwater’s activities is not that they “undermine” the U.S. military’s “efforts” and “mission” in Iraq. The efforts and the mission shouldn’t exist.

A real hazard of preoccupations with Blackwater is that it will become a scapegoat for what is profoundly and fundamentally wrong with the U.S. effort and mission. Condemnation of Blackwater, however justified, can easily be syphoned into a political whirlpool that demands a cleanup of the U.S. war effort — as though a relentless war of occupation based on lies could be redeemed by better management — as if the occupying troops in Army and Marine uniforms are incarnations of restraint and accountability.

Midway through this month, the Associated Press reported that “U.S. and Iraqi officials are negotiating Baghdad’s demand that security company Blackwater USA be expelled from the country within six months, and American diplomats appear to be working on how to fill the security gap if the company is phased out.” We can expect many such stories in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, we get extremely selective U.S. media coverage of key Pentagon operations. Bombs explode in remote areas, launched from high-tech U.S. weaponry, and few who scour the American news pages and broadcasts are any the wiser about the human toll.

With all the media attention to sectarian violence in Iraq, the favorite motif of coverage is the suicide bombing that underscores the conflagration as Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence. American reporters and commentators rarely touch on the U.S. occupation as perpetrator and catalyst of the carnage.

One of the most unusual aspects of the current Blackwater scandal is that it places recent killings of Iraqi civilians front-and-center even though the killers were Americans. This angle is outside the customary media frame that focuses on what Iraqis are doing to each other and presents Americans — whether in military uniform or in contractor mode — as well-meaning heroes who sometimes become victims of dire circumstances.

Many members of Congress, like quite a few journalists, have hopped on the anti-Blackwater bandwagon with rhetoric that bemoans how the company is making it more difficult for the U.S. government to succeed in Iraq. But the American war effort has continued to deepen the horrors inside that country. And Washington’s priorities have clearly placed the value of oil way above the value of human life. So why should we want the U.S. government to succeed in Iraq?

Unless the deadly arrogance of Blackwater and its financiers in the U.S. government is placed in a broader perspective on the U.S. war effort as a whole, the vilification of the firm could distract from challenging the overall presence of American forces in Iraq and the air war that continues to escalate outside the American media’s viewfinder.

The current Blackwater scandal should help us to understand the dynamics that routinely set in when occupiers — whether privatized mercenaries or uniformed soldiers — rely on massive violence against the population they claim to be helping.

Terrible as Blackwater has been and continues to be, that profiteering corporation should not be made a lightning rod for opposition to the war. New legislation that demands accountability from private security forces can’t make a war that’s wrong any more right. Finding better poster boys who can be touted as humanitarians rather than mercenaries won’t change the basic roles of gun-toting Americans in a country that they have no right to occupy.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He writes the Political Culture 2013 column. Read other articles by Norman, or visit Norman's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Tony S. said on October 16th, 2007 at 8:03am #

    When the Iraq War began, the United States had their “shock and awe” campaign which was dropping bombs from airplanes. At the war’s beginning, the media of course went into a paroxysm of patriotism. We were murdering Iraqis, many of them civilians, and the media ignored the human tragedy. The same thing is likely to happen in Iran. Why can’t the media face up to facts? Isn’t that their job, to report what is actually happening? It certainly lessens one’s respect for news people, when they won’t even report on what is actually happening.

  2. gerald spezio said on October 16th, 2007 at 10:09am #

    Blackwater is an integral part of uncle Milton Friedman’s sacrosanct free market privatization religion.

    Do you think that God’s own religion can be unseated by mere mortals?

    Blackwater’s hiring mantra is;

    Dying for Dollars.

    We can murder for peace and justice.

  3. Timber said on October 17th, 2007 at 4:55pm #

    Maybe part of the problem is treating every person who carries a weapon for the government as a hero. Iraq isn’t Europe in 1945, nor was Afghanistan, Bosnia, Granada, Vietnam, or even Korea. And yet most people with a family member or friend in the military labor under the delusion that their soldier/sailor/pilot/etc. is “defending freedom” no matter what they do and no matter where they are.

    Until we have the courage to challenge this myth of unconditional military nobility (tarnished only by the incompetence of civilian leaders, according to its adherents, including groups like Veterans for Peace), expect more of the same.

  4. Russian said on November 6th, 2007 at 6:19am #

    American Troops are fighting for freedom and Blackwater is helping the cause. Without them protecting important people we would be screwed in this war

  5. Thomas said on November 15th, 2007 at 7:22am #

    American troops have not fought for freedom since 1945. Blackwater is purely a mercenary group with a private espionage army. History has shown that whenever a modern military uses mercenaries to bolster thier forces it is due to the incapability of the nations regualr troops to operate efficently. Also, when mercenaries are hired it destroys the moral of the regular troops. Blackwater mercenaries make nearly 8 times what a United States soldier does for the same risks. Face it, this war is over. The US simply does not know how to fight a counter insurgency warfare period. If they did they wouldn’t allow Blackwater to go on shooting rampages whenever they wanted. Hearts and minds Bush? Are you fucking kidding me

  6. David said on November 19th, 2007 at 12:05pm #

    As Thomas comments, he sees clearly, from thousands of miles away. I owe my life as do four others as well, to a Blackwater rescue force who supported US and british troops as we came under fire and were sepaertaed from the military forces protecting us.
    Perhaps Thomas needs to re-think his comments …

  7. Seven said on January 13th, 2008 at 3:03pm #

    David –

    So five American invaders owe their life to mercenaries. And in September, 17 Iraqis were MURDERED (please, everyone – stop using the word casualties or collateral damage) by a PRIVATE ARMY.

    If you can’t see how having a private mercenary army operating inside the United States and abroad is a bigger threat to freedom than any Iraq could ever, in their wildest dreams, wish to be. . . then I pity your narrow-mindedness.

    This nation is decaying. We all have front-row seats to the death-knell of one of the strongest empires the world has known. We deserve, as a collective nation – for all our warmongering and all the blood-spilling – everything we are going to get.

    And Thomas doesn’t need to re-think his comments. You were in the military. . . good for you. You are not a hero, you are not my savior. You are merely a fool. Thank you defending me against threats that didn’t exist.

    D. R.