Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blackwater: A Black Eye?

Blackwater, one of a host of civilian security firms operating in Iraq, is currently the focus of much criticism and a Congressional investigation for improper behavior, specifically for indiscriminately shooting Iraqi citizens.

Unfortunately, this is not a discussion of facts; it is a discussion of emotion, colored by political partisanship. It serves the Democrat’s purposes to use any negative anecdote—true or not—about Blackwater’s performance, and it serves the Republican’s purposes to use positive anecdotes. Most likely, it will be difficult to tell where the truth is. No earth-shattering analysis there.

A very important factor to remember in situations like this one is not to jump to conclusions until all the facts are known.

Today on Fox News’ XM Channel 168’s “Brian and the Judge” program did not help to clear the air. If you aren’t familiar with this program, it features Brian Kilmeade from FNC’s “Fox and Friends” morning show, and Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox’s Senior Judicial Analyst. Napolitano is brilliant, his two books excellent looks into constitutional law, and Kilmeade is much savvier than you might think, given his morning show hi-jinks. And, yes, “Brian and the Judge” is fairly conservative in its orientation, although Napolitano holds the line on strict interpretation on what I will term “government propriety.”

Today’s program featured a block with retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, who has nothing good to say about civilian security personnel in Iraq, let alone Blackwater, whose security agents he described as “thugs” and worse, who shoot first and ask questions later. There’s no point, however, in spending time on the obvious issue of whether shooting first and asking questions later is acceptable, because not everyone agrees with Col. Peters. Almost immediately after the colonel wrapped up his segment a caller who had served in Iraq gave a nearly opposite account of the civilian security operating in Iraq, saying that the security people he had come in contact with had done an honorable and competent job of protecting the State Department officials whose safety was their charge. He further commented that the military is not able to provide the security for the State Department personnel, requiring outsourced security for them. It is also relevant to note that 30 Blackwater staff have been killed while working to defend US diplomats, but that none of its clients had died while in its protection.

A recent report from the State Department stated that in 2007 Blackwater conducted 1,873 security details for diplomatic visits to the red zone, areas outside the Green Zone in Iraq, and there have been only 56 incidences in which weapons were discharged, or less than 3 percent of all movements.

I am left to decide—we are left to decide—whether to believe Col. Peters, whom I respect, or a soldier who has seen up close the behavior of civilian security personnel, or the State Department. It’s a tough decision. The soldier posited that Col. Peters has an axe to grind against Blackwater and the other civilian security companies because of the fact that most of those civilians are former military guys who make multiples of what active duty military guys and gals make. My respect for Col. Peters causes me to doubt that he would have such petty feelings. On the other hand, my regard for our active military guys makes me trust this soldier’s account. And, I feel confident that the U.S. would not tolerate cowboy behavior such as has been alleged by Blackwater’s and the administration’s critics. I just believe that the U.S. is the “good guys” in this conflict.

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