Just as Blackwater had finally fallen from the headlines and the boys in Moyock thought their State Department contract would be quietly renewed, their worst nightmare has hit: Blackwater is a campaign issue. In an ironic twist of politics, Erik Prince is now on the same side of the contractor issue as Obama--more or less.
Senator Hillary Clinton broke her longstanding silence on private security contractors in Iraq. Her senate office announced late Thursday that she is co-sponsoring a bill to ban "Blackwater and other private mercenary firms in Iraq."
The timing of the announcement is particularly curious. It comes less than a day after the investigative journalist and Blackwater critic Jeremy Scahill published a piece in the Nation in which the Obama campaign conceded that, "if elected Obama will not 'rule out' using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq." The campaign also informed Scahill that Obama would not be signing on to legislation banning the use of contractors in war zones by 2009 . Ignoring that the issue of funding contractors versus government employee positions is a Congressional one, the campaign also informed Scahill that Obama would increase State Department funding so that State could build their own ranks and eventually replace contractors.
Scahill noted the difficulty of the position:
The senior adviser acknowledged that Obama could find himself in a situation where, as President, he continues using forces he himself has identified as "unaccountable." The Obama campaign, in other words, may have painted itself into a corner.
It appears that Clinton's campaign realized the risk Obama was taking and picked up the issue in an attempt to outflank Obama on the left and pick up the vote of Blackwater opponents.
I spoke with Scahill about the coincidental timing. "For over a week I tried to get Hillary Clinton's campaign and Senate staff to issue a policy statement reflecting her position on her potential future use of PMCs in Iraq if she won the presidency. Silence. Then, the day after my story comes out revealing that Obama will not "rule out" using them, all of a sudden Hillary Clinton becomes the most important political figure in the US to call for a "ban" on Blackwater et al." Scahill said. "Where was her call for a ban after Nisour Square?"
Maybe somewhere underneath the Oval Office drapery measurements?
Senator Clinton targeted what has become America's most hated company with unusually strong rhetoric, clearly intended for emotional appeal, something her campaign has sorely lacked:
"From this war's very beginning, this administration has permitted thousands of heavily-armed military contractors to march through Iraq without any law or court to rein them in or hold them accountable. These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised our mission in Iraq. The time to show these contractors the door is long past due. We need to stop filling the coffers of contractors in Iraq, and make sure that armed personnel in Iraq are fully accountable to the U.S. government and follow the chain of command," said Senator Clinton.
Thousands of heavily-armed contractors marching through streets? Contractors marching? More like lounging around Liberty pool in Speedos.
Obama seems to be confident enough in his lead that he can risk political fallout of the acknowledgment that whoever becomes the next president will have little choice but to continue reliance upon contracted security. The math is simple. The number of Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp personnel in Iraq is nearly equal to the number of Diplomatic Security Service officers worldwide (approximately 1395 vs. 1450.) The US government is not in a position to replace them.
Obama's campaign seems to understand something about the contracting issue and now that Senator Clinton has taken a position, it's time for her to do her homework and maybe even bring on a new national security advisor who understands the complexity of the issues.
I hear that Cofer is available...
Disclaimer: In no way do I endorse either of these candidates, although I do admit that if Cofer signed on as their national security advisor, I would support a Prince/Scahill ticket.