Private military contractors have spotted an opportunity as America’s longest war grinds on.
Here’s a crazy idea floating around Washington these days, outlandish even by today’s outlandish standards: The United States should hire a mercenary army to “fix” Afghanistan, a country where we’ve been at war since 2001, spending billions along the way. The big idea here is that they could extricate U.S. soldiers from this quagmire, and somehow solve it.
Not surprisingly, the private-military industry is behind this proposal. Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private military company Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, each see a role for themselves in this future. Their proposal was offered at the request of Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.
It could get worse. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Prince laid out a plan whereby the fighting force would be led by an American viceroy who would report directly to Trump. Modeled after General Douglas MacArthur, who ruled Japan after World War II, the viceroy would consolidate all American power in a single person. His mission: Do whatever it takes to pacify Afghanistan. No more backseat driving of the war from pesky bureaucrats in Washington, or restrictive rules of engagement imposed on soldiers. An American viceroy with a privatized fighting force would make trains run on time in Afghanistan—if they had trains.
Who would this viceroy be? Probably Prince had himself in mind, and that should worry everyone. Under his watch, Blackwater military contractors opened fire in a city square in Baghdad, killing 17 civilians in one of the worst episodes of the Iraq war. When asked by Congress how he addressed potential wrongdoing among his employees in 2007, he said: “If there is any sort of … problem, whether it’s bad attitude, a dirty weapon, riding someone’s bike that’s not his, we fire him. … If they don’t hold to the standard, they have one decision to make: window or aisle.”
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