Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Blackwater Affair

Blackwater, a private mercenary and protection firm, was in the news lately, targeted by a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that has tried to get to the bottom of a particular firefight that occurred in Iraq in August. Its C.E.O., Erik Prince, defended his company ably. Committee Chairman, Henry Waxman, while forced by the FBI to desist speaking about the incident for which the committee was called, pending an investigation, persisted in thoroughly questioning Prince about his company's operations, their tactics and even his annual pay.

I unfortunately learned of this story through ABC's "World News Tonight" with Charles Gibson, whose ignorance and obvious liberal bias has tainted most stories he has worked on. What is so aggravating to me is Gibson's and Waxman's likening of Blackwater to the U.S. Miltary. Waxman suggested that U.S. soldiers should be doing the protective work for the State service in Iraq and that they cost less. Oh really? He may be looking at the annual pay of the mercenary soldiers, but not at the cost-to-train or benefits. U.S. soldiers are extremely expensive to train and are paid for by tax money. Special forces soldiers like the Navy SEALS, to which the Blackwater mercenaries are akin, cost well over a million dollars to train. In fact, it takes three years to fully train a Navy SEAL and the first year alone costs the taxpayer $800,000.00. By comparison it costs Blackwater $400,000.00 to train its soldiers, total. Also, how much does the U.S. spend on equipping its soldiers and even, inadvertently, it enemies?

Waxman also asked why hired bodyguards have fired weapons 200 times (in 56 incidents) in the last four years. He suggested that there is a "shoot now, ask questions later" mentality in play. Yet as mercenaries, not U.S. soldiers, these people have been hired for one task, protect the lives of State Dept. officials wherever they go in Iraq. With the profusion of insurgent attacks, suicide and road-side bombings that have occurred there, it seems to me that these individuals are doing their job correctly, and that our military might take some lessons from it. Blackwater has lost none of its clients and only 30 of its mercenaries in this war.

Waxman (and Gibson) compared Prince to General David Petraeus. They suggested some sort of mismanagement of funds because Petraeus makes about $180,000.00 per annum while Prince made over $1 million last year. But again we are comparing apples and oranges. Erik Prince runs a business. It has high-profile clientelle that are willing to pay large amounts for the preservation of their lives. As C.E.O., he makes a decent salary. His business happens to be mercenary (soldier-for-hire) work. He is not U.S. military and his (and his employees') loyalties and focus are not the same as our military's. Why he is being unfairly and unfavorably compared to the military escapes me. Waxman and Gibson should do their homework before they suggest mis-allocation or malfeasance.

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