Prince is at pains to insist, "we drove aggressively, sometimes offensively." Once again, sorry; with "an armored motorcade that trailed only the US Army and Marines," the average Baghdadi could not but see a bunch of lethal maniacs. Iraqis -- Sunni and Shi'ite alike -- invariably described Blackwater's shootings to me as "acts of terrorism."
Who were these noble patriots/mercenaries? Prince answers: "Mainly former noncommissioned military officers and former members of the special operations services and elite light infantry ... Roughly two-thirds were former US Army; about one-quarter were Marines, and the rest former Navy SEALs, police SWAT team officers, and former federal agents from the FBI, Secret Service and other agencies."
All of them of course "proudly patriotic," and cashing in as much as $650 for each 12-hour a day shift in the "hot zone."
Talk about a super-deal for the Bush administration; Prince quotes reports certifying Blackwater as "a more cost-effective security option in Baghdad" than the Pentagon.
Blackwater reached the apex by 2007: nearly 2,500 contractors deployed in almost a dozen countries, with a database of 50,000 former special forces, soldiers and retired law enforcement types. Then came The Fall.
Prince is most effective -- and unforgiving -- while depicting the sunset George W Bush years: "By late 2007 the company I'd built from scratch was being ground down by the plate tectonics of political battles in Washington." The State Department was "legitimately terrified of the operational secrets I could divulge -- specifically, the fact that everything Blackwater's men did in Iraq was by State's direct command."
And politicians -- what else is new -- didn't have a clue: "We were, after all, part of what then CENTCOM head Admiral William Fallon once gruffly referred to as the government's 'surrogate army'."
By 2009, "Blackwater was publicly dragged through the mud." And this while the State Department was also dirty as hell.
Yet by late 2009, after four years of Blackwater's "myriad duties," the "surrogate army" had earned over $1 billion from Foggy Bottom. Mud never tasted so good. PR nightmare or not, the company was finally renamed "Xe Services," which, according to Prince, "means ... nothing. Which was exactly the point."
The early Obama years were bitter. Prince blames Hillary Clinton's State Department for "theatrically exploding its relationship with Blackwater" in 2009 -- and on top of it handing the ultra-lucrative gig to another contractor, Triple Canopy.
It was time to bow out; Prince sold Blackwater in 2010; it's now a softy outfit known as Academi -- still protecting diplomats and providing "training." PMC competitors DynCorp and Triple Canopy, though, are still thriving, not to mention the Brits with Aegis and Blue Mountain.
Make no mistake -- with or without Blackwater, "surrogate armies" are the future. The United Nations will eventually use them; peacekeeping forces -- I've seen a few -- are usually staffed by frankly incompetent soldiers from very low-income countries. Prince does not seem to want to corner this market, even though, in the mid-2000s, Blackwater pitched exactly the same thing to the State Department: a "relief with teeth" humanitarian team, as in a privately trained 1,700-strong "peacekeeping package," complete with its own air force, helicopters, cargo ships, aerial surveillance, medical supply chain and combat group.
Prince now lives in Abu Dhabi and sees Africa as the new Holy Grail (AFRICOM would concur), investing in logistics/security services to the booming oil and gas industry. He has delocalized and diversified -- just like the Pentagon; one may bet that at least half of the Pentagon's humongous budget will remain outsourced for the foreseeable future.
And the revolving door is not going away -- with so many aspiring Princes of War leaving the sprawling Pentagon-centric system to launch their own start-ups and sell stuff to their former buddies on the inside, not to mention ensuring that the militarized assembly line keeps churning "unsung heroes." So many wars on myriad global terrors to prosecute, so precious few surrogate armies.
Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror, by Erik Prince. Portfolio Hardcover (November 18, 2013). ISBN-13: 978-1591847212. Price US$15.33 (Kindle $13.99); 416 pages.
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