If the scenario of minority governance painted by Ezra Klein–about which I blogged a few days ago–persists, if the current iteration of the Republican Party continues to control all three branches of America’s government despite being the choice of a dwindling minority of America’s voters, what can we expect?
Rather obviously, we can anticipate tax and spending policies benefitting the rich and well-connected at the expense of the rest of us. And speaking of the rich and well-connected, there have recently been several reports involving rich and connected Erik Prince, and his “vision” of privatized warfare.
Prince is Betsy DeVos’ brother, and the former head of Blackwater. Actually, former is a misnomer: Blackwater still exists, but its name was changed after it became a dirty word.
More than a year after his plan to privatize the Afghan war was first shot down by the Trump administration, Erik Prince returned late last month to Kabul to push the proposal on the beleaguered government in Afghanistan, where many believe he has the ear — and the potential backing — of the U.S. president.
That speculation continues, despite a statement from the President of Afghanistan to the effect that the country would “under no circumstances” allow the counterterrorism fight to become a “private, for-profit business.” American military figures are equally negative
At the Pentagon, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, told reporters that “I absolutely do not agree” with Prince’s contention that he could win the war more quickly and for less money with a few thousand hired guns.
In addition to such a plan violating signed agreements with the Afghan government, Votel said, “the most significant downside is that we turn our national interest over to contractors.” Quoting earlier comments by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Votel said, “I don’t think this is a very good strategy.”
The fact that people who understand warfare are negative only goes so far with a President who thinks his gut knows more than “the generals” (or climate scientists, or economists, or pretty much anyone). The article notes the existence of
a widespread belief in Kabul and Washington that Prince has a willing audience in President Trump, who is known to be frustrated with the cost and slow progress of the strategy he adopted a year ago — a belief buttressed by the White House’s refusal to reject the idea out of hand.
The Afghans aren’t convinced; Qadir Shah, spokesman for the country’s National Security Council, has been quoted as saying that Prince possesses a “colonialist type of arrogance” and is “a war profiteer who stands to make $10 billion a year from such a plan,” assessments that are hard to dispute.
Since severing his ties to Blackwater — the company he founded that was accused of heavy-handed practices, including the killing of civilians, while under U.S. contract in Iraq — Prince has cycled through several iterations of the same business and now runs a Hong Kong-based company called Frontier Services.
It isn’t simply that Prince is an out-and-out profiteer, an accused murderer, and as despicable as (although clearly brighter than) his sister. Privatizing war is a terrible idea, and we’ve already gone too far down that path. In 2005, I wrote a paper titled “Outsourcing Patriotism” about dubious practices during the Iraq War.
During that war, private corporations were the second biggest contributor to coalition forces after the Pentagon, and nearly a third of the budget earmarked that year for the war, or $30 billion dollars, went to private companies. Wherever possible, soldiers were replaced with highly paid civilians not subject to standard military discipline. As I noted at the time, whether such contractors are mercenaries (whose use is banned by the Geneva conventions) is one concern, but the practice raised much graver issues, among them whether the ability to “hire” soldiers allows policymakers to wage war by proxy and without the kind of congressional and media oversight to which conventional deployments are subject.
In such a world, Congressman X doesn’t have to come home and justify sending a constituent’s son or daughter to war. In such a world, lobbyists for companies being hired to fight would agitate for military rather than diplomatic “solutions” to international issues. And in such a world, those companies would inevitably be available to the highest bidder, not just to the U.S.–and to the extent they employed former members of our armed forces, our tactics and capacities would become an open book our enemies could read.
But people like Erik Prince would make a lot of money. And idiots like Donald Trump wouldn’t understand why hiring soldiers wasn’t a great idea.