Obama: Blackwater Troubling, Here to Stay (Updated)
By Noah Shachtman July 09, 2008 | 8:24:00 AMCategories: Mercs, Politricks
Back in February, Barack Obama caught flack from some liberals for refusing to "'rule out' deploying private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq." In a wide-ranging interview with the Military Times family of papers, Obama repeated -- and explained -- his view on guns-for-hire. "There are going to be uses for private contractors," he said. And not just in the mess hall, or behind a fork lift.
There is room for private contractors to work in the mess hall providing basic supplies and doing some logistical work that might have been done in-house in the past. I am troubled by the use of private contractors when it comes to potential armed engagements... I think it creates some difficult morale issues when you've got private contractors getting paid 10 times what an Army private's getting paid for work that carries similar risks...
Q: Blackwater would argue that they're a bargain: that you get a higher level of ability, that... they can keep top-level talent there perpetually.
A: I am not arguing that there are never going to be uses for private contractors in some circumstances. What I am saying is if you start building a military premised on the use of private contractors and you start making decisions on armed engagement based on the availability of private contractors to fill holes and gaps that over time you are, I believe, eroding the core of our military's relationship to the nation and how accountability is structured. I think you are privatizing something that is what essentially sets a nation-state apart, which is a monopoly on violence. And to set those kinds of precedents, I think, will lead us over the long term into some troubled waters.
UPDATE: An adviser to the Obama campaign thinks I badly misinterpreted the Senator's remarks. "Barack Obama was the very first Senator to submit legislation to reign in private military contractors and seek to bring oversight and legal accountability. He did so some 8 months before the tragic shootings in Nissor Square, demonstrating both his seriousness and foresight on this issue. He also notably doesn't have lobbyists for these firms working for his campaign," the adviser writes in to say.
In his interview, the Senator reinforced again that we have turned over too much of the public missions of defense and foreign policy to private firms interested primarily in profit. He discussed how he is "troubled by the use of private contractors when it comes to potential armed engagements." He then went on express his concern with "privatizing something that is what essentially sets a nation-state apart, which is a monopoly on violence."
The full interview Military Times did with the Senator is available at: http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=3615116&c=FEA&s=INT .
Interested readers should also check out his defense plan, available at http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/Defense_Fact_Sheet_FINAL.pdf, which lays out his plans to reform military contracting. On the private security and military services front, its basic elements are to:
Require the Pentagon to develop a strategy for figuring out when contracting makes sense and when it doesn't, rather than continually handing off governmental jobs to well-connected companies.
Create the reporting requirements, accounting, and accountability needed for good governance and actual money savings with contracting.
Establish the legal status of contractor personnel, making possible prosecution of any abuses committed by private military contractors.