It was with a mix of astonishment and amusement that I noted Blackwater’s contract with the State Department was extended this week. It’s as though Sept. 17, the hearing in front of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the angst between the Departments of State and Defense, and the angst between the Department of State and the Iraqi Government, never happened. Or at least, were inconsequential.
I have no argument with a company proving itself and staying in harness, nor can I protest the State Department wishing to stick with a company it trusts. What does bemuse me is that the knee jerk reactions happened, then stopped, and what we are left with is a hodge podge of temporary, Iraq-specific (with some Afghanistan leakage) solutions, but no lasting, far-reaching ability to demand and maintain standards that ensure the promotion of the US’ good image, rather than the tarnishing thereof.
Activities in Iraq are under close scrutiny, albeit too late. This attention was only as a result of an event that was publicly embarrassing to the US, and severely hampered the US’ political and diplomatic influence abroad; (as I predicted directly to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in writing, in early September 2007). The conduct of all American PMCs, be they employed by the US Government or not, in Iraq / Afghanistan or not, reflects on the country as a whole. Let’s face it, no one will ever congratulate the US PMCs for doing a good job, but they will circle like hawks when negative incidents occur.
PMCs will not be confined to Iraq / Afghanistan, and yet, the close supervision really is focused exclusively on these regions. The day will come when a negative incident will occur in one of these places, and the knee jerking will start all over again. Now is the time to put in place regulatory standards for PMCs, and a licensing and audit regime that ensures those standards on any operation, anywhere in the world, whether those operations are in support of the US military or not. Come what may, PMCs do have the ability to negatively affect the US’ political and diplomatic efforts abroad – Congress must support those efforts.