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Scahill, Jeremy. Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Scahill, Jeremy. Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New York: Nation Books, 2007. 480pp. $26.95

Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist for The Nation, takes on Blackwater and the privatization of war and security with a vengeance. His fervor and intensity, no doubt prized characteristics in the world of investigative journalism, are on display here in spades. Scahill deconstructs the legal, political, and moral issues that are interwoven with the use of private security contractors like Blackwater Lodge & Training Center, Inc., in admirable fashion, pointing out the substantial and vexing issues that are presented by corporations engaging in activities formerly and traditionally reserved for the armed forces of nation-states. Regrettably, however, his passion generates stray voltage as his manuscript degenerates into an attack on the Bush administration's Iraq war policy, and further regresses into an assault on the Bush administration generally, political conservatism, and the Christian right. By the final pages, Scahill's vitriol discredits him and takes the wind out of the sails of any reasonable argument he otherwise presents regarding the dangers posed by Blackwater and its sister companies. This is too bad, because the author's meticulous research and willingness to take on an administration patsy are commendable and necessary.

A cursory review of Scahill's online postings, blogs, and congressional testimony reveals a clear and evident bias. But hardly any reasonable military professional would argue that the actions of companies like Blackwater have not harmed the coalition forces' counterinsurgency effort in Iraq. Downstream and third-order effects of these sometimes reckless and frequently arrogant mercenaries are not part of the calculation--they get paid for keeping the principal alive and unharmed. On the other hand, Scahill's rejection of private security companies as a concept leaves little room for the possibility that companies like Blackwater could be useful in the national security apparatus if future administrations and Congress could muster the political will to control them under an effective and feasible system of accountability. Moreover, while there is plenty to condemn about Blackwater's legacy, tactics, and management, that is only half of Scahill's story. That Blackwater founder Erik Prince is a deeply and evidently religious conservative is prima facie evidence, according to Scahill, that he and his business is or should be thoroughly discredited.

Finally, Scahill laments that Blackwater has been able to recruit seasoned intelligence and operational professionals, such as Cofer Black, without acknowledging that it is a common practice for corporations to recruit talent from the government, and vice versa. He paints Black, in particular, as a sellout, when Black's hiring by Blackwater only follows the typical pattern of Washington professionals across many vocations. Faulting his decision to move to the private sector is shallow and naive.

The bottom line on Blackwater is that it is worth reading. The book is a useful medium to take stock of the myriad issues that confront policy makers on this controversial subject. Yet Scahill's antipathy toward all things Bush, Republican, and the Christian right ultimately takes over. Coupled with untidy organization and the author's tendency to repeat himself, this renders his work less constructive and credible than it otherwise might have been.


Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army

Regimental Judge Advocate, Regimental Combat Team 5, Al Asad, Iraq
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Author:Bracknell, R.G.
Publication:Naval War College Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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