Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince's new book 'Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.'
(image by Portfolio Hardcover)
Reviewed by Pepe Escobar
It's the late 1990s' Clinton boom-boom years. You are a young millionaire US patriot with a Navy SEAL background. What are you gonna do? You invest in a badass private army start-up and you go fight "terra, terra, terra" across Dar al Islam. A single owner; no pesky stockholders; no board of directors; no government bureaucracy. You can be "nimble and aggressive." You become -- literally -- the Prince of War. What's not to like?
This is Erik Prince's My Way, told with some measure of "contract humor" and the obligatory pious references to a "life's mission" to "serve God, family and the United States"; this is the inside story of how Blackwater turned into "something resembling its own branch of the military" and "the ultimate tool in the war on terror." In the manner of Audi extolling the merits of Vorsprung Durch Technik, Prince hails it as a "proud tale of performance excellence and driven entrepreneurialism."
No question; God may be great, but he would certainly eschew a perpetual photo-op at the roof of the Sistine Chapel to be able to toy with such an awesome PMC (private military contractor). Prince, by the way, is ballsy enough to -- correctly -- depict Cristobal Colon, aka Columbus, in 1492 as a pioneering PMC.
Inevitably, this also had to be the story of how Blackwater "was slagged as the face of military evil," "gun-toting bullets for hire." So forget about Jeremy Scahill's 2007 book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army indicting Prince's creation; whatever end of the ideological spectrum -- from an heir of Plato to an heir of Aristoteles and every political theorist in between -- the real fun for the reader starts when Prince meticulously destroys US "politicians" who "feign indignation and pretend my men hadn't done exactly what they had paid us handsomely to do."
And handsomely that was. To star as a brand new branch of the military/security complex earned Blackwater a cool US$2 billion, providing weaponized thrills to the Pentagon, the State Department and -- in the shadows -- the CIA. Not bad for an initial investment of $6 million -- Prince family money -- on what was initially concocted "as a cross between a shooting range and a country club for special forces personnel" in back-of-beyond Moyock in North Carolina, on the eastern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp.
PMCs such as those employed by Blackwater -- numbering a staggering 200,000 -- would end up representing 54% of the Pentagon's "workforce" in Afghanistan and Iraq, not including the 3,000 working for the State Department.
Now for the bad news in what's billed as an inside story. Forget about finding anything about Blackwater in bed with the CIA. The agency redacted everything to unreadable status. What's left is a lame postscript by a neo-con.
So nothing, for instance, about Blackwater Jason Bournes, uber-fixers past and present, and their adventures as part of an elite unit disguised under the bland acronym GRS (Global Response Staff). A clear case of (unwritten) shadow war. Just your average "surrogate army."
In Afghanistan, immediately after 9/11, Blackwater's great coup was to befriend notorious Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. The contact was Charlie Santos, a US rep for Saudi-based Delta Oil.
In the late 1990s, Santos was playing -- what else -- Pipelineistan, as in trying to convince the Taliban to accept the terms attached to the TAPI gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and (maybe) India. We all know how that ended. But because the Taliban later put out a fatwa of sorts on Santos, he conquered Dostum's trust.
As the CIA typically had no decent ground intel and could not trust the Pakistani ISI (Inter Services Intelligence), Blackwater stepped in, "delivering" to the CIA not only Dostum but the flamboyant King of Herat, warlord Ishmail Khan.
Prince had me howling with laughter when he stresses that Blackwater maintained "the highest ethics while dealing with these contacts"; I pictured a Bunuel-esque Discreet Charm of the Afghan Bourgeoisie shot by Scorsese. Or Tarantino. Still one favor led to another, and by 2002 an incorporated offshoot, Blackwater Security Consulting, was tasked to provide security for the CIA headquarters in Kabul.
Then came "Operation Iraq Freedom." Blackwater's contribution to the birth pangs of a "free Iraq" was to protect the repellent Paul Bremer, he of the ridiculous navy blazer-and-combat boots outfit, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).
Prince does not explain the trickery for Blackwater to bag a $21.3 million, no-bid contract to become Bremer's detail; just a "someone in the Army's contracting department recommended Blackwater."
I vividly remember Bremer's caravan in action in the streets of Baghdad in the fall of 2003; to say that average Iraqis were terrified is a huge understatement. Yet Prince alerts: these were no war profiteers; just your average, innocent "private company providing armed guards to a war zone."
It would take a Fort Meade roomful of computers to check/correct/edit Prince's own version of, for instance, the "rebuilding" of Fallujah in April 2004 -- dubbed Operation Vigilant Resolve -- after the murder of four Blackwater contractors; or the 2004 Blackwater versus the Mahdi Army four-hour battle in Najaf ("no credit for or mention of Blackwater").
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