So I went to the book launch and talk of Jeremy Scahill's book on the mercenary group Blackwater USA last night with co-hosts Naomi Klein and Amy Goodman. It was an excellent event full of big ideas and deadly insights. I have to admit being somewhat depressed upon exiting, but these are the times we live in. I can absolutely recommend the book however, do pick up a copy because this story represents something central to understanding not only what Iraq is largely about but what war craft is becoming. Trends in how wars are conducted have roots in business practice and often come full circle back to the civilian population in many forms - some more benign than others but war always reconstructs a society on multiple levels.
The Blackwater story as Scahill observes, is not only about hired mercernaries ("contractors") that operate above and below the law, but rather a larger story of privatizing all aspects of society. It's an ominous philosophy that is an absolutist calling for all traditional constructs of a society to go into private control. From "small things" like the phone company and veteran's health records to the larger fields of defense, health and food production. The potential for fraud, corruption and criminal behavior is almost outside of the imagination. Blackwater represents the first big stride in at least one aspect of this program, privatizing the military.
For me the really big concept touched on last night was by Naomi Klein - "disaster capitalism", the subject of her forthcoming book. This is huge and I was thrilled to hear the term as various bloggers were touching on the subject in our "apocalypse" series earlier this year. Chris Hedges also gets near the topic in his latest book on the religious right - American Fascists. The idea is simple and really quite obvious actually. The War on Terror is obvious part of this new disaster capitalism (which in all honesty we should be calling "corporatism" because that is what we are truly living with) but not exclusive to it. The wave of natural disasters and epidemics such as the Asian Tsunami, Bird-Flu, Katrina, etc. are also part of this new mechanism to profit from extreme events. This is a new universe of profiteering. When sudden shifts happen, whether they are ecological or political in nature the general populace is vulnerable - emotionally, intelectually, financially. Think of the land grabs in Asia after the Tsunami or the 9th ward where 60% of that population were homeowners - no more. These events render rational people reactionary and expose the weakest of us to forces much larger than ourselves. Cash strapped government agencies capitulate as well. We live in a time where disaster is becoming an economic model for success and control of new sectors never before handled by industry. Even the Red Cross is partnering with Wal-Mart for hurricane relief.
There is something post-modern in all of this as some bloggers (Jodi Dean) have touched on. Iraq is a great example.The war in Iraq is on the one hand a colonial pillaging of a sovereign state, but it is also a simultaneous pillaging of ourselves. We (in cohort with others) are poised to control all of the natural resources of Iraq at the same time wasting tons of our own captial, natural resources and lives in the process and depleting our own resources and social systems at home. So the pillage is an exterior motive as well as reflexive act meant to cause an equal breakdown within our own ability to govern at home. These breaks in traditional structures cause economic and political opportunity for non-governing entities. Vacuums are quickly being filled by ideologically driven private interests. Blackwater is just one case - where they lobby to be part of the military to get access, no bid contracts and tax dollars while at the same time lobby to be outside of the military to be free of the Pentagon's Uniform Code of Military Justice. The goal is to be intrinsic to the "total US Force" while maintaining tax free status as a BVI entity. You can easily include Bechtel, Lockheed Martin and many others in this growing trend of paradoxical corporatist identity.
Image: Blackwater headquarters North Carolina
many concepts in this post indebted to Naomi Klein