Erik Prince wants to privatise the war in Afghanistan, and Trump is listening

Erik Prince wants to privatise the war in Afghanistan, and Trump is listening
Comment: Former Blackwater chief Erik Prince is back, and trying convince Trump to privatise military operations in Afghanistan, writes CJ Werleman.
5 min read
21 Aug, 2018
A foreign private security company drives in central Baghdad, 31 October 2007 [AFP]
On 16 September, 2007, a convoy of Blackwater security contractors raced towards Nisour Square, near the Mansour district in Baghdad, Iraq.

The heavily armed American mercenaries were escorting a handful of US embassy employees, but when the approaching intersection became jammed with cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians, the "trigger men" anxiously cocked their weapons.

A car carrying an Iraqi couple and their child suddenly merged into the lane before the convoy. At that moment, and without provocation, the mercenaries opened fire, shooting the family dead. A gun battle ensued, leaving as many as 20 Iraqi civilians dead in the square. The body of the child in the car was found burned to her mother after the car caught fire.

Iraqis took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, demanding an end to Blackwater conducted security operations in their country, with then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki revoking the security contractor's license to operate in Iraq.

Democratic staff working for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found that Blackwater contractors fired their weapons 195 times in the nine-month period spanning the beginning of 2005 to September of that year. Of these 195 instances, it was found Blackwater fired their weapons first in more than 80 percent of all "engagements".

These revelations left the reputation of both the company and its CEO, Erik Prince, in tatters. Blackwater was shut down.

"I'm done. It's all sold or shut down," said Prince in a 2011 interview. "I'm getting out of the government contracting business."

Private armies allow authoritarian types to circumvent democratic institutions

Well, Prince and his effort to con the United States government into privatising all aspects of the military, including the fighting role performed by the infantry, are back thanks to President Trump's "growing frustration" with the military strategy in Afghanistan, which is approaching its 17th year of operation.

According to reports Trump is considering Prince's plan - or rather for-profit ruse to replace US soldiers with privately paid mercenaries - as part of a new strategy to bring about either victory in Afghanistan, or something that could be sold to American voters as "peace with honour," borrowing the same slogan pitched by President Nixon during the later years of the Vietnam War.

Prince has a close relationship with Trump, one so close it pits Prince within the orbit of the Department of Justice's investigation into Russia's influence in the 2016 election, and within one sibling distance of the Oval Office, given his sister, Betsy DeVos, serves as Trump's Education Secretary.

While Prince denies having spoken directly to Trump about his plan, ex-Navy SEAL officer, Prince told NBC News that he plans to launch an aggressive "air campaign" within days to gather enough support from Trump's political base, so that the president will "embrace it".

"I know he's frustrated," Prince said of the president. "He gave the Pentagon what they wanted. [...] And they haven't delivered."

Given Trump appears to fashion himself on some of the world's worst dictators, the idea of selling the current president on the idea of having his very own private army might not be a difficult pitch to make.

Private armies and militias are an essential must have on every wannabe dictator's wish list, for they allow authoritarian types to circumvent democratic institutions and the rule of law by essentially outsourcing the security apparatus of the state to pro-regime terrorists and thugs.

Prince's proposal includes a "viceroy" being appointed as the head of this mercenary army, one who will report directly to Trump, which could allow the US president to conduct military operations of the United States without approval of the congress and knowledge of the American public.

This could allow the US president to conduct military operations of the United States without approval of the Congress

The use of mercenaries to conduct war on behalf of a nation-state is also illegal under the international law, but since when has the current occupant of the White House shown one iota of a care for pesky global institutions such as the United Nations, and norms and conventions such as those that protect the rights of refugees, detainees and immigrants?

By outsourcing US military operations to private contractors will allow Trump to execute a military strategy without government oversight, or having to care for civilian casualties, public concern for increase US body counts, or even war crimes.

Erik Prince testifies during a House Oversight and Government
Reform Committee hearing in 2007 regarding private security
contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Getty]

"Mercenaries' hazy legal definition is extremely useful to the US, for one because it enables the Pentagon not to count what are effectively additional 'boots on the ground' in its tallies of fighters, casualties and deaths," observes Emily Ludolf.

"As both wars [Iraq and Afghanistan] dragged on, and America's political will faltered, Washington's increased reliance on security contractors actually caused contractor casualties to exceed official soldier casualties in 2009 and 2010. To this day, mercenary contractors constitute a significant proportion of combat deaths, although they aren't officially 'counted' as such."

Should Trump come to eventually feel that his decision to replace US soldiers with mercenaries in Afghanistan is vindicated, the compulsion to deploy US "guns for hire" all around the world will become too irresistible for Trump to ignore. It will also mean anti-democratic regimes everywhere will see US government-backed mercenaries as a solution for crushing their respective anti-regime, revolutionary forces.

As my counterterrorism professor once remarked, "When for-profit corporations take control of the military, wars will be sold as new products," and no one is more fond of selling a gimmick than Trump. Only instead of handing out fake degrees, like Trump University, the president will be handing out real death certificates to the families of those whose sons died on foreign lands in the name of corporate greed and tyranny.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.