Which brings us to a meeting of bizarre bedfellows last month: the actress and Darfur activist Mia Farrow and Erik Prince, founder and CEO of the government contractor, Blackwater Worldwide. According to an ABC News report:
The possibility of involving a private contractor like Blackwater in a crisis like Darfur has, unsurprisingly, ruffled many feathers. J. Steven Morrison, a Sudan expert for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argued that "It's preposterous to think there is some magic silver bullet that takes the form of Blackwater or any other private military contractor to solve the problems in Darfur." Furthermore, Blackwater's troubled record in Iraq has led other to question the wisdom of involving this specific company:
Farrow told ABC News that Blackwater, despite its controversial history and allegations of murdering civilians in Iraq, might be able to help the "hopelessly under-equipped" African Union forces deployed in Darfur with logistics and training.
"Blackwater has a much better idea of what an effective peace-keeping mission would look like than western governments," Farrow told ABC News from a refugee camp in near the Darfur border. Farrow said those governments have been unsuccessful in standing up to the Sudanese government and bringing peace to the region.
...Prince, meanwhile, has reportedly said that with about 250 professionals, Blackwater could transform roughly one thousand of the African Union soldiers into an elite and highly mobile force.
"I'm so sick of hearing that nothing can be done," Prince told the Wall Street Journal last month, calling the Janjaweed, a militia force backed by the Sudanese government, an "unfettered bully."
"No one has stood up to them," he told the Journal. "If they were met by a mobile quick reaction force of African Union soldiers, the Janjaweed would quickly learn their habits were not sustainable."
Prince also told the Associated Press in July that the military "can't be all things to all people" all the time. "There are always going to be some pieces that the private sector can help in."
Blackwater employees have been involved in two deadly incidents in Iraq that proved to be public relations disasters for the company.
The first was the slaying and mutilation of four Blackwater contractors in 2004 in Fallujah that led to congressional hearings about the protection Blackwater provided its employees.
The second, a September 2007 shooting at a crowded Baghdad intersection that killed 17 Iraqis, triggered congressional hearings and investigations from more than a dozen federal agencies.
Federal prosecutors have sent target letters to six of the security guards involved in the September shooting, indicating a high likelihood the Justice Department will seek to indict at least some of the men, according to reports by the Washington Post on Sunday.
An Iraqi government investigation concluded that the security contractors fired without provocation. Blackwater has said its personnel acted in self-defense.
The question Blackwater in particular is not really one which I am equipped to engage. But the general antipathy to the use of private military trainers and personnel -- mercenaries, if you will -- is, I believe, misplaced. Morrison's worry is one of standard political paralysis: There's no guarantee that a new idea will work, so better to stick with the old idea, even if it's not working. And clearly, international peacemaking efforts aren't working. While the UN dithers and tries to raise enough soldiers and equipment, the janjaweed continue their reign of terror against the people of Darfur. And it's not like the UN has a much better track record than Blackwater: numerous allegations of rape, prostitution, child pornography, and other sexual abuses have dogged UN peacekeepers for years. And, even when UN peacekeepers have been on the ground, events like Srebrenica and Rwanda indicate the limits of their willingness to fight to protect their charges. And waiting for states to get involved hasn't been much better.So, why not turn to private firms? Note that what Blackwater is discussing here isn't putting its own people into the situation, but rather training the African Union peacekeepers to be competent at their jobs. A private company will not be hampered by a lack of political will or fears of alienating public constituencies. While the world may not yet be ready to use mercenaries for the job itself, using a firm like Blackwater to train those who are willing to go into situations like Darfur should certainly be seriously considered.