Liberal Grace

Monday, September 24, 2007

Will mercenaries derail a young Iraq democracy?

Private armies operating above the law are antithetical to democracy.

We "whiny liberals" have been pointing out the danger of mercenaries in Iraq since we first heard about them years ago. Anyone with common sense intuitively understands that it's a bad idea to have outside-the-law private armies in a country where we're trying to establish rule of law.

Blackwater's alleged practice of "shoot first, ask no questions later" is not how free and democratic cultures are run.

Another concern is who are the mercenaries. People who bear arms for big bucks are bad ambassadors for America -- especially to a society learning how to be free. I apologize to all Blackwater employees for saying this but I firmly believe it.

This is in contrast to a regular army made up of citizens who are disciplined, fighting according to military code and international treaties. Most importantly they are motivated by a sense of service and patriotism rather than profit.

As I've understood them, mercenary armies are typically a hodgepodge of nationalities recruiting anyone who will carry a gun and kill for money, putting profit above patriotism.

The Iraq contracted mercenaries are a little different because they claim some patriotism but I've heard more than a few finally admit they went over there out of patriotism but now it's all about the money.

Not long after 911, I met a mercenary in Dubai who was on his way to Afghanistan. As a pacifist I'm fascinated by people so opposite of me. We were driving together and he had enough time to tell me about his assignment and his motivations for doing it.

He made no mention of freedom, justice or democracy. He was in it for thrills and money. Period.

I should also mention that he was exiled Afrikaans South African.

I suspect that mercenary "contractors" tend to attract these kind of unsavory characters. The stories this week reminds me of earlier reports that Blackwater was recruiting soldiers from South Africa and other previously anti-democratic places like Pinochet's Chili.

Mercenaries 'R' Us

With the casualty toll ticking ever upward and troops stretched thin on the ground, the Bush administration is looking to mercenaries to help control Iraq. These soldiers-for-hire are veterans of some of the most repressive military forces in the world, including that of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and South Africa's apartheid regime.

In February, Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based Pentagon contractor, began hiring former combat personnel in Chile, offering them up to $4,000 a month to guard oil wells in Iraq. The company flew the first batch of 60 former commandos to a training camp in North Carolina. These recruits will eventually wind up in Iraq where they will spend six months to a year.

"We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals -- the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system," Gary Jackson, the president of Blackwater USA, told the Guardian.


Apart from Chile, the other popular source for military recruits is South Africa. The United Nations recently reported that South Africa "is already among the top three suppliers of personnel for private military companies, along with the UK and the US." There are more than 1,500 South Africans in Iraq today, most of whom are former members of the South African Defense Force and South African Police.

This dependence on "contractors" is just another spectacularly bad neo-con idea. There are just something you shouldn't outsource and your military is one of them.

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