Small Wars Journal

Blackwater Founder Meets With Afghan Powerbrokers, Aims to Privatize War (Update & Background)

Blackwater Founder Meets With Afghan Powerbrokers, Aims to Privatize War

Hasib Danish Alikozai - VOA News

The founder of the U.S.-based Blackwater security firm has been meeting with powerbrokers in Afghanistan to rally support for his plan to privatize the Afghan war.

Erik Prince heads the private military company known as Academi, renamed in 2011.

According to a report in The New York Times, Prince sent a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in 2017 to secure a meeting, but Ghani refused to meet with him.

Prince, based in United Arab Emirates, has reportedly been holding regular meetings with influential Afghans, including some who have an eye on Ghani’s job as he faces reelection in less than a year.

Prince told the Times he is not trying to interfere in Afghan politics.

“The Afghan people will have an election, and they will make the choices that they are going to live with," Prince said. But I will talk to whichever party in Afghanistan that wants to think about a different way to this that actually stops the bleeding."

Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In 2007, Blackwater was implicated in the killings of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards. The first-degree murder conviction of one of the guards was overturned last year. The U.S. appeals court also ordered that three other defendants be re-sentenced.

Ghani’s Position

Last week, Ghani rejected the effort to privatize the war.

“Flawed and impractical proposals are being touted around, including privatizing the war and exploiting the Afghan natural resources. Afghans will not allow the exploitation of their natural resources by anyone,” an angry Ghani told a gathering in northern Balkh province last week.

Ghani’s remarks were followed by an official statement by the Afghan National Security Council on Twitter.

We will not allow our struggle for peace & stability to be cheapened by the prospect of profits. As a sovereign nation, we will consider all legal options against those who try privatize war on our land. GoIRA remains steadfast in its commitment to the fight against terrorism https://t.co/qSS2xo1D2z

— Hamdullah Mohib (@hmohib) October 4, 2018

​​Prince’s Plan

Prince would replace thousands of U.S. troops with fewer private contractors, who would be backed by a 90-plane private air force. The war would then be coordinated by what Prince calls a "viceroy."

In interviews with various news outlets, Prince used the example of the East India Company that ruled the Indian sub-continent in the 19th century.

Matt Dearing, an assistant professor at the Washington, D.C.-based National Defense University, called the East India Company analogy a “misuse of history.”

“Prince frequently cites the British East India Company as a successful case study of privatization of state building, but it’s a terrific misuse of history,” Dearing said. “The East India Company had no intent on building a nation state. Instead, they pillaged the Mughal Empire and enriched their shareholders, only to be bailed out and nationalized after terrorizing the population.”

Talks with the Taliban

Dearing said Prince’s plan also fails to address "how mercenaries advance reconciliation efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban."

“U.S. and Afghan militaries can win battles, but the long-term solution is a political one. And privatizing the war takes us no closer to that end goal,” he said.

Tamim Asey, a former deputy minister of defense in Ghani’s government, said Private Security Companies (PSCs) are "notorious" in Afghanistan and could face a national revolt if given a broader chance to operate there.

"Mr. Prince's plan for privatizing the Afghan war is politically and militarily unfeasible and goes against the social and political fabric of the Afghan society," he said. "Private mercenaries have never won a war in this scale and complexity.”

Asey said the only way to fight terrorism in Afghanistan is through strengthening the Afghan security forces.

Ahmad Shah Katawazai, a former Afghan diplomat in the U.S., echoes Asey's belief, and maintains that privatization of the war would also jeopardize the security agreements between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

“Privatization will bring under question the BSA [Bilateral Security Agreement] and strategic partnership between the two countries — political solution, more pressure on Pakistan and Taliban, equipping and strengthening ANDSF plus the air force, which will give leverage to the Afghan government, should be prioritized,” Katawazai said.

Corporate vs. National Interest

Rebecca Zimmerman of the Rand Corporation argues that contractors and the military operate very differently for different interests.

“Contractors are actually working on the basis of specified tasks, and they judge success by completely those tasks, not by actually winning a war,” she said. “It’s hard to see how you’d be able to transfer the context of the contractors that he’s talking about into anything that could viably pursue national interests, as opposed to corporate interests.”

William Gallo contributed to this story.

Comments

Addendum to my comment below:

If, indeed, we are now abandoning the Wilson/Roosevelt "nation/state-building" model -- of what "winning a war" looks like --

Quote from FDR: 

"Imperialists don't realize what they can do, what they can create! They've robbed this continent (Africa) of billions, and all because they are too short-sighted to understand that their billions were pennies, compared to the possibilities! Possibilities that MUST include a better life for the people who inhibit this land."

And if, indeed, we are now adopting some other model -- one which seeks to "enrich shareholders" and "pursue corporate interests" via means other than "nation/state-building" (herein, achieving "a better life for the people who inhibit this land;" this now being considered to be too difficult a way to achieve these ends?) --

Then, in this exact such light, do we not:

a.  Find the De Lanessan quote below interesting/relevant?

Quote from De Lanessan: 

"In every country there are existing frameworks. The great mistake for European people, coming there as a conqueror, is to destroy these frameworks. Bereft of its armature, the country falls into anarchy. One must govern with the mandarin and not against the mandarin."

And

b.  Better understand certain of Donald Trump's moves/considerations thereby? 

 

 

Two models of what "winning a war" means -- to the U.S./the West -- would seem to be before us today:

First:  The "nation/state-building" model of what "winning a war" looked like -- to the U.S./the West -- (a) during and after World War II and (b) until the Brexit and the election of President Trump:

"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other ... as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other."

(See Hans Morgenthau's "To Intervene or Not to Intervene.")

Thus, as noted by Morgenthau above, (a) "expanding the reach of our political values and institutions" and (b) "preventing the expansion of other people's political values and institutions;" this was the specific ("nation/state-building?") model of what "winning a war" looked like for the U.S./the West until recently.  

Next:  A recent declaration -- by the current prime minster of Great Britain -- of the apparent abandonment of this such "nation/state-building" model -- of what "winning a war" looks like to the U.S/the West:   

"This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over."

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/theresa-may-donald-trump…

Question:  If the U.S./the West no longer defines "winning a war" in "nation/state-building" terms, then which (if any) of the two following quoted items (from our article above) would seem to best acknowledge this such  humongous "sea change?"  

First -- from the "Prince's Plan" section of our article above:

BEGIN QUOTE

Matt Dearing, an assistant professor at the Washington, D.C.-based National Defense University, called the East India Company analogy a “misuse of history.

“Prince frequently cites the British East India Company as a successful case study of privatization of state building, but it’s a terrific misuse of history,” Dearing said. “The East India Company had no intent on building a nation state. Instead, they pillaged the Mughal Empire and enriched their shareholders, only to be bailed out and nationalized after terrorizing the population.”

END QUOTE

Next -- from the concluding "Corporate vs National Interests" section of our such article:

BEGIN QUOTE 

Rebecca Zimmerman of the Rand Corporation argues that contractors and the military operate very differently for different interests.

"Contractors are actually working on the basis of specified tasks, and they judge success by completely those tasks, not by actually winning a war,” she said. “It’s hard to see how you’d be able to transfer the context of the contractors that he’s talking about into anything that could viably pursue national interests, as opposed to corporate interests."

END QUOTE

(Thought:  If "nation/state-building" is no longer considered to be [a] in our national interest and/or [b] how we define what "winning a war" looks like, then, indeed, would not [1] "enriching shareholders" and [2] "pursuing corporate interests" -- via some other approach [which, for example, utilizes private military contractors, as in colonial days?]  -- now become a/the new way forward?)