While the mainstream media has been murmuring about murders committed by Blackwater in Iraq, the last remnant of real American journalism has shed light on a darker story: Blackwater's operations here at home.
Blackwater, it seems, is not just the key player in Bush's coalition of the willing, but a secret weapon in Bush and Cheney's plan to extinguish the American tradition of constitutional power and ignite a new era of royal power.
When seen through the Blackwater incident, all of Bush's talk about his right to sole commanding authority over the army starts to make sense--Medieval sense.
And while the story of human rights abuses to Iraqis at the hands of Blackwater is important, the tale to be told in this incident is about a President who invaded a foreign country not to save the people therein, but as a strategy for transforming his own office--the office of the Presidency--into a form of rule reminiscent of the great royal estates that defined Europe before the age of constitutions.
The key to royal power, of course, is not just unilateral decision making, but private armies--armies loyal not to the people or to the system or even to profit, but only to the throne.
Royal Power at Street Level
For most Americans, the image of royal power they hold in their heads comes from an engraving by Paul Revere of the 1770 Boston Massacre. The 'Red Coat' soldier, loyal to King George III, fired upon the people to squelch dissent. In our collective memory, this image of the king's soldiers firing upon the people is the spark that sets the revolution in motion--it is our point of origin as a people.
The problem is not just Blackwater. There are now dozens and dozens of private armies hired by the Federal government, loyal too the President, and seemingly outside of any Constitutional process.
In the light of that image of the Boston Massacre we all hold in our minds by virtue of being Americans, consider Jeremy Scahill's description of this incident in New Orleans--not Iraq, but Louisiana--following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina:
Within two weeks of the hurricane, the number of private security companies registered in Louisiana jumped from 185 to 235. Some, like Blackwater, are under federal contract. Others have been hired by the wealthy elite, like F. Patrick Quinn III, who brought in private security to guard his $3 million private estate and his luxury hotels, which are under consideration for a lucrative federal contract to house FEMA workers.
A possibly deadly incident involving Quinn's hired guns underscores the dangers of private forces policing American streets. On his second night in New Orleans, Quinn's security chief, Michael Montgomery, who said he worked for an Alabama company called Bodyguard and Tactical Security (BATS), was with a heavily armed security detail en route to pick up one
of Quinn's associates and escort him through the chaotic city. Montgomery told me they came under fire from "black gangbangers" on an overpass near the poor Ninth Ward neighborhood. "At the time, I was on the phone with my business partner," he recalls. "I dropped the phone and returned fire."
Montgomery says he and his men were armed with AR-15s and Glocks and that they unleashed a barrage of bullets in the general direction of the alleged shooters on the overpass. "After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough said."
Then, Montgomery says, "the Army showed up, yelling at us and thinking we were the enemy. We explained to them that we were security. I told them what had happened and they didn't even care. They just left." Five minutes later, Montgomery says, Louisiana state troopers arrived on the scene, inquired about the incident and then asked him for directions on "how they could get out of the city." Montgomery says that no one ever asked him for any details of the incident and no report was ever made.
(full story here)
Of all the well-deserved hand wringing over the Blackwater massacres of civilians in Iraq, the Quinn massacre of Americans is hardly known, barely reported. As such the conversation has not even begun about private armies paid for by federal agencies and loyal, it seems, to nobody but themselves and the President of the United States.
The U.S. military, for its part, seems to have accepted that the king has for-hire militia at his disposal and that they give the House the kind of carte blanche it has been seeking vis-à-vis street level deployment of non-police, non-military, non-national-guard, non-federal-marshal deadly force. All those other uses of force fall under some kind of jurisdiction, but not the Blackwater's and Quinn armies of America. They are under the jurisdiction of contract law, business outsourcing by government. And George W. Bush has restructured that government enough to allow for these firms to play a central role anywhere he wants, without approval or oversight from anyone.
Loyal To King or Country
'Royal power' means that power is a direct extension of the will of the executive, no longer tempered by the balance of powers set up with such genius by the frames of the U.S. Constitution. But to see royal power as it has been extending into American politics--both at home and abroad--we need to pay look at these incidents in an entirely new way.
When the massacres of the Vietnam War came to light or even the massacre of Kent State, these were incidents where enlisted men made bad choices as a product of policies gone mad and cultural divide. Soldiers who killed villages in Vietnam were not loyal to the President any more than anyone else. They were drafted and enlisted men caught in a confusing policy that twisted their souls and turned them brutal. When national guardsmen fired on college students in Ohio, it was not because they were hired to do a job and saw themselves as working for nobody by the man at the top, but the product of a social chasm open so wide that it swallowed up lives.
Blackwater and its kind are different. They are not just soldiers, not just police. They are lines of loyalty bought, paid for and hidden from public view by the obfuscating jargon of Federal budgets. Their loyalty is sternly vertical, extending through the CEO to the President in a perfect reinvention of vassal obligation.
Blackwater may be 'boots on the ground' in Iraq or Katrina, but in political terms they are an extension of the king's body.
Royal power extends from the king to the people, from top down, but it cannot unfold if the army belongs to the people and not to the king. As Machiavelli described it, mercenaries and auxiliary armies can help extend rule for a short period of time, but for the will of the prince to become the will of the state, the king must make the army 'his own.'
"American Working for America"
The telltale sign of the President making the army his own--or rather going out to get an army that will act as if it is his own--is the willingness of the CEO of Blackwater, Erik Prince, to speak of President Bush as if he is America itself.
In this exchange with Representative Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Prince demonstrated just how deeply Blackwater is invested in royal power when he repeatedly substituted 'America' for 'George W. Bush' when describing exactly whom he worked for:
I'm an American working for America. Anything we do is to support U.S. Policy. You know the definition of a mercenary is a professional soldier that works in the pay of a foreign army. I'm an American working for America
In fact, the relationship is more complicated than that. Erik Prince is a billionaire CEO who acquired a contract with the State Department as a result of persistent loyalty to President Bush. And the work he does has unfolded out of public view, out of Constitutional process, and under constraints only of consistently renewed contracts and the belief that the only loyalty that matters is loyalty to the President.
Like Bush himself, when asked why it is that some view Blackwater's for-hire military work on behalf of the President as falling outside the bounds of what is permissible in the American political system, Prince responded that the problem is not the law, but merely a matter of finding the right words:
General misunderstanding because we haven't been able to communicate what we do and don't do these last few years.
What they have been doing is enforcing the will of the President, largely unbeknown to the American people and radically outside our quaint tradition of laws.
But Prince is right about one thing: Americans have not understood his work, because it has not yet been talked about as one of Bush's key strategies for enacting and extending royal power.
Not talked about, that is, until now.
(cross posted from Frameshop)