We Are All Mercenaries (Weekly Dig)


Originally published in Baratunde’s bi-weekly GOODCRIMETHINK column in the September 26, 2007 edition of Boston’s Weekly Dig. Click through to see the awesome graphic the Dig created!


And now, back to our war.

Last week, the Iraqi government said it was going to cancel the license of Blackwater USA for allegedly killing 11 civilians in a gun battle surrounding an official's convoy. I smiled when I saw the headlines and thought, "Oh, isn't that cute? The Iraqi government thinks it can govern."

There are just over 160,000 US military personnel in Iraq and 180,000 private contractors, including up to 50,000 employed in "security" functions. Blackwater is one of the most important to the American government. The State Department has a large contract with them, as does the Defense Department. They're so close that when the secretary of defense visits Iraq, he is protected by Blackwater forces, not the US military. Given the elderly, criminal and mentally unstable (but, by God, not gay) recruits the Pentagon has been desperately snagging lately, I can understand the decision. With all this, the idea that Blackwater can simply leave Iraq will remain just that: an idea.

Didn't anyone tell the Iraqi officials that private security contractors were explicitly granted immunity from Iraqi law back in 2004? Didn't anyone tell the Iraqi officials that they cannot "revoke" Blackwater's license because all evidence suggests the company has been operating without a license since 2006 or earlier? Really, what does the Iraqi prime minister talk about with US officials who constantly drop in for surprise visits, Bill Belichick's intelligence apparatus?

"But," many of my left-leaning friends say, "they're mercenaries!"

OK, just what is a mercenary? Critics argue that the private contractors are only fighting for the money, but why else would you be in Iraq? Freedom? Democracy? Hummus? If money is the true motivation, then be prepared to call that American kid enticed by the Army's $25,000 "Quick Ship" signing bonus a mercenary, too. With the entire US occupation based on America's need for oil and the money flowing from it, we are all mercenaries.

Besides, mercenaries are not always a bad thing. Do me a favor, and watch The Devil Came on Horseback, a film about the genocide in Darfur. After you're done watching the mass displacement, rape and slaughter, and after you've heard the latest resolution-without-action from the UN and US politicians, tell me you don't want to send in some hard Blackwater guys to take down the Janjaweed immediately. I will help you raise the money myself.

Blackwater is not the problem. It is a symptom. It is a symptom of a rush to war on the cheap and without proper planning. It is a symptom of our bias toward privatization combined with a failure to establish clear rules for just who these private contractors are accountable to.

It is easy to look at this most recent Blackwater incident and blame private contractors for all the problems surrounding them in Iraq, but these companies are, after all, contractors. This means somebody contracted with them to do their work. Demanding that Blackwater leave the country was as far as the Iraqis could go. They'd be hard-pressed to find, much less cancel the license of, the US government.

BARATUNDE THURSTON IS A COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR. HIS COLUMN RUNS BIWEEKLY. CATCH HIM PERFORMING AT THE BOSTON COMEDY FESTIVAL NEXT WEEK. FOR DETAILS, VISIT BARATUNDE.COM.