In his biography of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the Oxford historian Denis Mack Smith writes: "the first activist success was largely the handiwork of the arditi, a loose organization of ex-servicemen that pre-dated the fascist movement by some months. Its freebooting activities were similar to those of the Freikorps in post-war Germany and its achievements taught Mussolini the invaluable lesson that squads of armed men could be very useful in intimidating opposition." (p. 36)
The recent killing of 12 innocent Iraqi civilians, including an infant, by Blackwater private security guards has finally brought some media attention to the murky legal status of the U.S. government's mercenaries in Iraq. The true test of whether or not Iraq is "sovereign" has arrived. If the Iraqi government cannot expel Blackwater and other armed privateers from its country then the world will be shown once and for all that the Maliki government is "independent" in name only, and is in reality a "protectorate" of the United States, a fully annexed piece of real estate beholden to the policy whims of its "protector."
The recent incident also raises the question: What are the trained squads of right-wing mercenaries from Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and Dyncorp going to do when they come home from Iraq? They will probably fulfill a role similar to the one played by the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The Pinkertons specialized in breaking strikes and repressing labor union organizing, as well as intimidating progressives in general with violence. Blackwater and its ilk can easily become the new Pinkertons, as they apparently already have in New Orleans.
The years of economic "shock therapy," outsourcing, deregulation, and privatization, have produced a gaping inequality in America. The rich people have sealed themselves off in gated communities while they enact policies that gut government services and starve the public sector. It is easy to see a time coming when repressing public resistance to these draconian economic changes will produce a booming market for companies specializing in the violent repression of dissent. From their gated enclaves, members of the ruling elite will not have to worry about local law enforcement hedging on police repression, they can just hire their own "police" to do the dirty work.
When combined with the climate the Bush Administration has produced where any kind of surveillance is "legal" and where the fundamental rights of American citizens can be violated wholesale, the privatizing of police functions to right-wing Republican companies like Blackwater does not bode well for the future. If America faced another Great Depression or some other catastrophe, instead of the promise of a reformulated New Deal, we could end up with an American variant of fascism.
Blackwater and other private "security" outfits are known to be involved in "secret" government operations. Taxpayers pay their salaries but lack the ability to find out exactly what they are doing in their name. In that regard Americans and Iraqis find themselves in a similar situation. Blackwater has more than $500 million in U.S. government contracts, and that does not include the "black" budget operations.
"When you ship overnight, do you use the postal service or do you use FedEx?" the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince, asked a panel of military officials. "Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service."
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to use the Post Office, and I also prefer to have wars fought by GIs.