A Privatized Military Industrial Complex

There are no clear paths that lead to peace and stability in Afghanistan. If the US stays, Afghanistan will likely continue to deteriorate and the very presence of American troops in the country may fuel further anti-American sentiment, which works to the Taliban’s advantage. If the U.S. leaves immediately, the Afghan army will be left with inadequate manpower and assistance, which may lead to the collapse of the government and the proliferation of both the Taliban and ISIS.

During Obama’s presidency, about 30,000 troops were sent to Afghanistan. It is hard say if that surge in troops had any positive effect in Afghanistan. As Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan, said in a recent interview: “With so much blood and treasure spent, so much loss of life, the country is not secure. Why is there more extremism? Why did [ISIS] emerge in Afghanistan while the U.S. [military] was here?” At its peak, there were about 140,000 troops in Afghanistan. It is unlikely that any additional number of troops that Trump deploys will make any difference.

Cartoon by Lo Wall

These paths are grim and it is hard to say what the best solution is. While some solutions may seem better than others, there are also supposed ‘solutions’ that could have disastrous effects and should not be considered at all. One of these ‘solutions’ has been suggested by a man named Erik Prince, founder of the private military company Blackwater and brother of Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education. Prince has had several meetings with Trump administration officials, as well as with the President himself. 

In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal in May, Prince outlined part of his proposal. In the piece, Prince argued that the war in Afghanistan has gone on for 16 years and that it is now time to try a different strategy. Prince proposes that the U.S. Army should stand down and hand everything over to private contractors. Prince recommended that the United States use the “East India Company approach” in Afghanistan. To be clear, the East India Company was an imperial armed trading company that “conquered, subjugated, and plundered vast tracts of south Asia,” according to the historian William Dalrymple.

It is worth being aware of Blackwater’s history. This history includes losing 200 automatic weapons for several months, issuing AK-47s to people who were not trained or authorized to use such weapons, using government finances on strippers, steroids, cocaine, and throwing massive parties. According to one person who attended one of these parties, Blackwater employees sprayed bullets into a building “next door, which housed Iraqi civilians.” In 2006, a drunk Blackwater employee got into an argument with the Iraqi Vice President’s guard and proceeded to shoot him three times. The guard died and the Blackwater employee was never prosecuted. Then in 2007, four Blackwater employees killed 17 civilians in Iraq—the youngest was a nine-year-old boy. Despite all this, Blackwater continued to earn up to $1 billion in contracts during the Iraq war, and in 2010, awarded more than $200 million by the Obama administration for security and work with the CIA. 

The U.S. Army does not have a great track record when it comes to human rights, but it is at least controlled to some extent by government checks and balances, the United Nations, and its own citizens. Of course, far more can and should be done to keep the US army accountable. Ethics are not the top priority when it comes to Blackwater­—profit and expansion are. But once a private company like Blackwater comes into the equation, little can be done to completely regulate it.

It is naïve to think that Prince just wants to end the war in Afghanistan quickly. In the past, Prince has called for the privatization of the UN and NATO. Perhaps with time, more will join him on his crusade to privatize more and more wars, eventually leading to the complete privatization of the military industrial complex. If this ends up happening, we can forget about a future where war does not exist.

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