THE BLOG

How Many Moral Waivers Has Blackwater Issued?

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • Steve Clemons Washington Editor at Large of The Atlantic and founder and senior fellow of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation.

blackwater erik prince.jpg
(Blackwater USA CEO Erik Prince)

A while back, I got interested in the fact that the Pentagon has issued more than 125,000 "moral waivers" to recruits in order to continue to meet manpower requirements. While issuing these waivers for various kinds of felonies -- including theft and assault -- the military under its highly righteous most senior general, Joint Chiefs Commander Pete Pace, continued to legally harrass and expel discovered homosexuals in its ranks.

This raises the questions about norms in private military contractors -- like Blackwater.

I don't know the answers but it would be interesting to know if Blackwater has issued any moral waivers to its recruits -- or whether it has any moral benchmarks at all. Someone really ought to ask.

Also, does Blackwater have a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy? Or does it allow homosexuals into its private combat operations (as opposed to the gay folks at headquarters doing the planning and pushing paper)? Or does it discriminate against any homosexuals joining its ranks?

Would be interesting to know.

Former DoD official and defense policy staffer at CSIS and the Council on Foreign Relations John Hillen used to focus on the "norms gap" between society and the Department of Defense -- and he'd side with the anti-gay bias of the Pentagon in general. But Blackwater USA and other private contractors raise a new question not about the gap between their outfits and American society -- but about the norms gap between a Blackwater operation and the miiltary.

My New America Foundation colleague and friend Jim Pinkerton -- who used to hang out with the current President when "W" was a lost puppy looking for purpose under the political direction of Lee Atwater -- has written a great essay on Blackwater -- with particular focus on the cockiness of the firm's CEO, Erik Prince.

In a recent session convened by The American Spectator magazine, Prince made a CEO-y pitch for his company. Using modern non-bureaucratic management techniques, such as differential pay for differential skills and performance -- and extra money for, say, working over the Christmas holidays -- Blackwater can, he says, deliver more value for the taxpayers.

And what of those shootings in Iraq? Well, that's off the record. Suffice it to say that Prince is fully aware of the investigators and litigators circling his company, and yet the onetime Navy SEAL, still ramrod straight in posture and deportment, has no intention of bowing down.

Indeed, Prince is sometimes startling in his independence -- even to those who pay his fees. The "surge" notwithstanding, the Blackwater man sees no decrease in the number of attacks on his teams in Iraq. Yet even more startlingly, he declares that American troops "should not be on the ground for more than 90 days." That is, after that much time, GIs are sure to wear out their welcome.

Some might say it's good for Prince's business for even more war-fighting to be privatized. But his suggested "term limiting" of American military occupation is an implicit criticism of the Bush administration, which hopes to see troops in Iraq for decades to come.

In fact, Americans aren't likely to stay in Iraq too much longer; there aren't many Muslim places where Christian soldiers are welcomed. And that's the best argument for using contractors: If we find ourselves in murky situations around the world, it's probably better to deploy shadowy companies, avoiding the Stars and Stripes bannered overhead.

For missions in a "long twilight struggle," what's a better name than Blackwater?

Did anything worthwhile come out of the nearly unnoticed war profiteering hearings earlier this year?

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note