Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blackwater Runs Deep: An Incomplete Overview

(I’ve provided no substantiating links in this post, assuming that the likely readership is already well-apprised of much of the information underpinning many of my statements here. I’m not making a particular argument but rather ‘thinking out loud’.)

The Iraqi government’s rescinding of Blackwater’s “license” to operate in Iraq does much more than just raise the issue of how their departure—if it happens—might affect the US military and State Department operations in Iraq. In fact it raises a whole bunch of fundamental legal issues that concern the war, the entire Bush administration, the Defense Department and the Iraqi Government.

At the very root of the problem is that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, by US and international legal standards.
The US Congress did not actually declare war on Iraq, and the “authorization of military force” was permitted only on the basis of manufactured “evidence” presented to Congress (for instance, evidence of the up-to 1,000 “drones” equipped to deliver chemical weapons that Hussein supposedly had was nothing more than a single photo of an American-owned machine taken in Arizona).
The UN did not pass a resolution permitting the US to invade—the matter was never even presented by the Bush administration.
That the US is in Iraq illegally makes the presence of Blackwater as contractors to the US government also illegal.

The CPA was an illegal construct created without debate in Congress or in the DoD and was neither under an existing Department nor in anyway attached to one. The Bush administration, with no legal authority, declared the CPA an extra-legal entity. Paul Bremer passed “laws” by edict, the most egregious being to indemnify anyone working under his “authority” from any legal action whatsoever --Iraqi, American or international.

The contracts held by Blackwater with the Pentagon and the State Department are themselves illegal in that requisite accounting and performance reviews are wholly absent but most especially that Blackwater itself claims extra-legal status in general (US law does not allow government contracts with extra-legal entities) whilst at the same time claiming protection under US law when it sees fit (US law does not permit private organizations to decide on the application of law.)

The “registration” of contractors with the Iraqi government is nothing more than a simple list. The ‘real’ registration is with the White House and the DoD which pays Blackwater on a cost-plus basis without formal oversight or audit and without normal federal Labor laws or any normal governmental contracting standards meaningfully applied.

So how does one declare something that already illegal, more illegal? How does one exercise authority over an entity when one has no authority?

For the Bush administration Blackwater has to stay. For Blackwater, the Bush administration and Iraq are vital to its continued richly-rewarded and well-protected existence.
Maliki’s government (such as it as) exists largely due to Bush’s support, and as such is beholden to the US. Maliki has been getting a lot of crap from the US lately—he’s been blamed for the lack of political progress that would serve the Bush administration’s interests and he’s responded with his own complaints about the US but hasn’t actually done anything. This Blackwater issue may appear to be more of the same—words but no action.

But the “legality” of Blackwater’s actions under “Iraqi law” is hardly the point—such laws as they have are of highly dubious origin and there is little authority to implement them. Besides, Blackwater is supposedly indemnified from any legal action—thanks to Paul Bremer (who was given carte-blanche by Bush). The fact is that practically speaking there is no legal anything in Iraq and discussion of legalities is essentially moot.

The key to this issue and what might result from it lies not in legalities but in the relationships of the players involved.
Blackwater (and other contractors) serve various Bush administration interests (many of which are private—not public--and both political and economic in nature). By extension therefore Blackwater serves Maliki, but only incidentally and in theory. In fact Blackwater is a liability for Maliki in Iraq. Universally hated, the expulsion of Blackwater and other contractors would garner Maliki some major political points at home, but within the Bush administration it would create considerable waves.

For a start, by declaring Blackwater (and other contractors) “illegal” Maliki would be exercising rights of sovereignty independent of the Bush administration and totally contrary to Bush’s (and the neo-cons’) “vision”. Iraqi law would be defined by the Maliki government, NOT by the arbitrary remnants of illegal US-sponsored Bremer edicts.

For such rights to take effect both Bush and Blackwater would have to accept Maliki’s arguments as legitimate. If they did that the next step would of course be a call for the withdrawal of the US military. The Iraqi government would thus “stand up” on its own terms, not the terms of the US. With the US finally out of there the kudos for Iraqi independence would go not to Bush but to Maliki.

Though Bush might claim that he had “set the conditions” for the ‘new Iraq’, its new independence would still be bloody for some time and it would hardly fit the model of an instant peaceful democracy that was being sold in the late-spring of 2003 and that was ‘re-predicted’ following the “purple-finger” elections of 2005. There would be no thanks offered to Bush (such as were given to Clinton and Blair, in Bosnia) for his “intervention” in Iraq. Blackwater too, would not thank Bush should Maliki’s rejection of contractors be allowed—Iraq turned Blackwater from a privately-funded 2-million dollar fantasy-camp for fascist jerk-offs and underemployed ex-military personnel into a tax-payer subsidized, Christian-fundamentalist, near-billion-dollar private corporation in just six years, with no legal obligations and guaranteed government protection--until the politics change.

I think Maliki is being forced to weigh his options. If he can demonstrably take this step and kick at least the US contractors out of Iraq, he’ll get a lot of support from Iraqis of all political stripes. That may compensate for any blow-back from the Bush administration which he knows surely, is a lame-duck. Maliki may be better served to seize the reins now rather than wait for the horse to tire and be changed at the next way-station.

This may well be the beginning of a major showdown in Iraq.

If Maliki decides it is in his best interest to finally act independently and represent Iraq rather than ‘America in Iraq’ it seems the only way he can ensure the removal of Blackwater and other contractors will be by persuading the various militia contingents to drive them out by force of arms—which is the really the only authority in Iraq.
The US military would be in no position to help the contractors (except on a piecemeal basis) and many regular US soldiers would have little personal incentive to do so--despite orders (given that many contractors are paid five- or six-times the wages of serving soldiers for the same job with far less personal and professional restrictions).

If the contractors are so challenged I imagine they would exercise their option to leave—mercenaries that they are. Their departure would put more pressure on the regular military (which includes Reserves and National Guard who constitute something like 40% of the US military in Iraq) which as we know have been (and always have-been) denied the personnel, direction, support, facilities and equipment for whatever unrealistic task they have been charged to complete.
If the contractors were successfully driven-out, then the focus would switch to the presence of the regular US forces. It would not necessarily follow that that US military would then be attacked in kind (more than they already have been). The US military’s departure (once the contractors had left) could be negotiated and organized quite peacefully and pragmatically.

The presence and/or removal of contractors and the ordinary US military in Iraq will be determined by the political will and strength of the Bush administration and the Iraqi administration under Maliki, and how they view their respective positions with regard to the present and the near future. Frankly I think Bush (and his entrenched buddies) and Blackwater (and their ilk) will fight to maintain their lucrative positions in Iraq and if that effort fails, they will fight to maintain the government connections and protections upon which they have built their “success” and quietly push, behind the scenes, for another war—the only reason for their existence and the source of the their wealth.

As I say this is not a polemic, just a collection of thoughts about some of the larger issues I think this latest twist regarding the US and Iraq, involves.

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