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Men in Black

The assault on Blackwater in particular and on the private military industry in general continues unabated, largely because leftists are eager to “prove” that the Bush administration, in cahoots with out-of-control mercenaries, is raping Iraq. For examples, see these typically simplistic columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, which essentially parrot the one-sided brief against Blackwater prepared by Rep. Henry Waxman’s Democratic staffers.

The fact that Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, happens to be a conservative who has donated to Republican candidates and is part of a wealthy Republican family in Michigan makes his company a particularly attractive target. In reality, as viewers of Tuesday’s hearings before Waxman’s committee could see, Prince does not easily conform to the image of a greedy and corrupt capitalist. With his blond crewcut and ramrod posture, he is about as all-American as you can get, and, though he came from a background of privilege, he volunteered to serve as a Navy SEAL officer—one of the most dangerous and demanding assignments in the entire armed forces.

Nor do most of Prince’s employees conform to the stereotype of drunken gunslingers shooting up a town for fun. Most are straight arrows like him with extensive experience in military Special Operations or big-city police SWAT teams. That is not to say that some of them don’t make mistakes or misbehave. But so do some soldiers. The attempts to demonize an entire industry based on the misbehavior of a few are akin to attempts by some to demonize the entire American armed forces based on what happened at Abu Ghraib.

In the Los Angeles Times this morning, I try to put the promise and problems of the private military industry into perspective. One of the points I make is that if we can impose more accountability and oversight on security contractors, we can make more extensive use of them in certain situations where we are not willing to commit our armed forces.

One example I mention is Darfur. Another example is provided in the newest issue (not yet online) of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s journal Orbis, which contains an essay called “Blackwaters for the Blue Waters: The Promise of Private Naval Companies.” The author, Claude Berube, a professor at the Naval Academy, suggests reviving the ancient practice (explicitly recognized in the Constitution) of issuing “letters of marquee” to “privateers,” who would supplement the efforts of our navy in combating drug smugglers, terrorists, and pirates on the high seas. This seems to me a compelling idea. Our navy now has fewer than 300 ships and every single additional ship will cost billions of dollars. Employing private companies at sea could be a cost-effective alternative.



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