Monthly Archives: October 2007

Music Post: Nac-1, FSC Crew



Nac-1 (FSC, KTD, AF)

An all around outstanding individual. Dedicated to human enlightenment, the elevation of all sentient beings. Seriously, check my man out. For the record, his political beliefs are definitely not the same as mine but he’s an excellent MC and graf writer as well as a friend. His wife and family would add he’s a stellar dad and husband to boot. Check out some of his graf here and here. Unfortunately I can’t post photos from Flickr so you’ll need to follow the links. Purchase his album here.


Military Contractors, State Power and the Monopoly of the Use of Force


In the controversially titled “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime,” Charles Tilly made a rather uncontroversial observation, the consolidation of state power in Europe was accompanied by the monopolization of the use of force. In Tilly’s words, “A tendency to monopolize the means of violence makes a government’s claim to provide protection, in either the comforting or ominous sense of the word, more credible and more difficult to resist.” (see Bringing the State Back In). Yet recent trends in the United States and elsewhere suggest this cornerstone of state power may be eroding and with it, the ability of the U.S. to achieve success in the Long War.

“Businesses Worldwide. United for Peace”–International Peace Operations Association

The most recent, costly and controversial example of this shift are the private military contractors (PMCs) operating in Iraq. The Iraqi government recently restricted the movement of military contractor Blackwater to the U.S. Green Zone in response to allegations of indiscriminate violence and the targeting of Iraqi civilians. For critics, Blackwater and other PMCs are essentially mercenaries, hired soldiers with little sense of morality or loyalty.

The security contracting industry has been working hard to counter that image through their trade group, the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA). The IPOA considers itself “the most ethical, transparent, and effective voice of the Peace and Stability Industry in the world” and paints a different picture of military contractors than we see in the mainstream media. Contractors are removing land mines in Africa, assisting with reconciliation in the Balkans and performing other necessary functions in post-conflict zones throughout the world.

I asked a friend who served as a solider in the first Gulf War what he thought about the role of contractors, was it good or bad for the military, are they of use in specific roles, and so forth. He thought in specific instances, food preparation and service, transportation of basic supplies, etc. using contractors was better than having soldiers perform these tasks. However, when it came to the use of force he was much more critical. Soldiers are held to much stricter rules of engagement and to much harsher consequences and penalties for getting out of line. The contractors are outside of the chain of command and do not share these restrictions.

For the soldier, the behavior exhibited by many contractors is dangerous to our counterinsurgency effort. Unprovoked firefights are a major concern. On a more strategic level, the actions of contractors undermine U.S. attempts to win “hearts and minds” in Iraq and damages American credibility in the ideological struggle throughout the region.

Peter Singer’s recent study for the Brookling’s Institution, “Can’t Win With ‘Em, Can’t Go To War Without ‘Em: Private Military Contractors and Counterinsurgency,” examines these concerns.

The point here is not that all contractors are “cowboys,” “unprofessional,” or “killers,” as Blackwater and other contractors are often described. Rather, most are highly talented, ex-soldiers. However, their private mission is different from the overall public operation. Those, for example, doing escort duty are going to be judged by their bosses solely on whether they get their client from point A to B, not whether they win Iraqi hearts and minds along the way.

Then there are the financial costs. Privatization works great for catering, but it has proved far less efficient for combat operations. Questionable contracts have resulted in the loss of billions of dollars.

Singer’s study explores how the use of contractors:

Inflames popular opinion against, rather than for, the American mission through operational practices that ignore the fundamental lessons of counterinsurgency.

As one set of contractors described. “Our mission is to protect the principal at all costs. If that means pissing off the Iraqis, too bad.”

Participated in a series of abuses that have undermined efforts at winning “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people.

The pattern of contractor misconduct extends back to 2003 and has involved everything from prisoner abuse and “joyride” shootings of civilians to a reported incident in which a drunken Blackwater contractor shot dead the security guard of the Iraqi Vice President after the two got into an argument on Christmas Eve, 2006.

Weakened American efforts in the “war of ideas” both inside Iraq and beyond. As one Iraqi government official explained even before the recent shootings.

“They are part of the reason for all the hatred that is directed at Americans, because people don’t know them as Blackwater, they know them only as Americans. They are planting hatred, because of these irresponsible acts.”

Reveals a double standard towards Iraqi civilian institutions that undermines efforts to build up these very same institutions, another key lesson of counterinsurgency.

As one Iraqi soldier said of Blackwater. “They are more powerful than the government. No one can try them. Where is the government in this?”

Forced policymakers to jettison strategies designed to win the counterinsurgency on multiple occasions, before they even had a chance to succeed.

The U.S. Marine plan for counterinsurgency in the Sunni Triangle was never implemented, because of uncoordinated contractor decisions in 2004 that helped turn Fallujah into a rallying point of the insurgency. More recently, while U.S. government leaders had planned to press the Iraqi government on needed action on post-“surge” political benchmarks, instead they are now having to request Iraqi help in cleaning up the aftermath of the Blackwater incident.


I’ll be writing more on this topic in the near future.

Political Influences: Part I


Bob from Brockley asked a few bloggers (including yours truly) to list our five greatest political influences. It’s rather difficult for me to say as my politics have shifted over time from the extremes of the radical left to a more pragmatic centrism. It was very hard reducing the list to five but here they are:

1. Family. I’d be remiss (and a jerk) if I failed to mention my family. First, my mother taught me the value of compromise and being a good listener and negotiator. Second, my grandfather and his extensive library introduced me to the world of ideas at an early age. Last, but certainly not least, my brother (may he rest in peace) schooled me in the art of debate arguing.

2. Friends. I’ve been blessed with some remarkable friends over the years, many of whom never seem to tire of hashing and rehashing political quandaries, historical events, and old arguments. Without these intellectual comrades and allies I would not be the person I am today.

3. Paul Avrich. Historian and author of numerous books on the Russian and U.S. anarchist movements.

4. George Orwell.

5. Paolo Freire. Educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Kamm on Guevara


[Hat tip to Oliver Kamm]

I debated the political legacy of Che Guevara again today, this time with Eamonn McCann. It was for a weekly politics programme for BBC Northern Ireland called Hearts and Minds; so if you’re in the province you can watch at some deathly hour this evening on BBC1 (and then it will be on the programme’s website, I think). McCann is often termed a veteran socialist, and was so described in the introduction to our discussion. I regret not having audibly gagged. “Veteran socialist” is what you would say about Michael Foot, or would have said about the late Gerry Fitt. McCann is an affable soul, but his politics are those of the Socialist Workers’ Party, which – I understate and euphemise – holds to a different view of constitutionalism from that of the politicians I’ve mentioned.

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The Economist has a short piece on Che as political icon and here is Paul Berman’s article on Che from a while back.

Palestinians Want Western Wall as Part of Any Settlement


[from the New York Sun]

By Benny Avni

UNITED NATIONS — As an American-hosted Middle East summit approaches, Palestinian Arabs are hardening their positions: An aide to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said yesterday that the Palestinians will demand sole Arab control over Judaism’s holiest site in Jerusalem, the Western Wall.

Mr. Abbas’s adviser on religious affairs, Adnan al-Husseini, made the new demand in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, sparking an outcry from many Israeli politicians who complained that recent reports about the Olmert government’s proposal to transfer Arab-dominated neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state have led to further Arab demands.

As the last remnant of the ancient Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 of the common era, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is considered Judaism’s holiest site. Muslims, who call it Al-Burak, also venerate it as the place where they believe the prophet Muhammad tied his horse before ascending to the heavens.

“We are talking about full control” over Jerusalem, Mr. Husseini, a scion of one of the most prominent Palestinian Arab families, told Ma’ariv. “The Wailing Wall,” he said, “is a Muslim waqf,” or sacred endowment, “and therefore cannot be abandoned.” He cited a 1928 British mandate white paper that called for the area to be under Muslim control where Jews would be allowed to worship.

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More here and here.