Blackwater: A Less-Than-Necessary Evil

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, Erik Prince was called to Capitol Hill where he attempted to defend his Private Security Company, Blackwater USA. According to the Congressional report, Blackwater has been involved in 195 shootings in Iraq since 2005, ‘in the majority of cases firing their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded.’
On Christmas Eve, 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed the bodyguard of one of Iraq’s two vice presidents, yet he was promptly and quietly removed from the country. The family of the slain man was paid $15,000, rather than the $250,000 initially suggested, because some State Department officials believed, according to confiscated e-mails, that such a high sum ‘could cause incidents with [Iraqi] people trying to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family’s future.’ The Congressional hearing came after years of scrutiny against Blackwater in particular, and Private Security Contractors (PSC) operating in Iraq in general. Their presence in Iraq increasingly appears to make the military’s job harder rather than easier. So why are these companies in Iraq?
The U.S. military’s mission in Iraq is massive, and includes facilitating the build up of the country’s infrastructure. But all the work is contingent on one condition: security. Retired Major General of the U.S. Army Robert Scales comments on securing a country with an overburdened force: ‘If you don’t have security, then we don’t have a policy in Iraq. And the people who do security are the same people we are asking to do the counter insurgency missions, to do cultural contact with the civilians and to fight the close battles.’ More men are needed, but options are limited. The likelihood of the draft being instituted for an already unpopular war is near zero. The next option: ‘If your military isn’t big enough to meet your needs, you’re going to have to go elsewhere. Unfortunately, I think that’s what leads you to reliance on contractors,’ Scales said.
A second reason to use private contractors in Iraq comes down to value-per-dollar spent. In the short term, the cost of maintaining a private force is high. According to Congress’s report, Blackwater has made over one billion dollars since 2001, in contracts with the State Department working Private Security Details (PSD); chiefly providing armed security for diplomats. A contractor is often paid over $100,000 a year, while the enlisted solider makes about $22,000 for the same security work. However, in the long term the numbers work in favor of private contractors. It’s expensive for the military to recruit and train large numbers of men in the skills of counter-insurgency.
On the other hand, Blackwater provides pre-trained men, without financial strings attached. If a Blackwater contractor is injured, the military pays only for his ambulatory care