Writing Without a Net
Matthew Yglesias was actually living a non-virtual life this weekend and missed the Kos brouhaha. He thinks it instructive:
A lot of Democrats in town (and, or so it seems looking at BlogAds) around the country seem interested in the idea of leveraging the blogosphere-left into a major political asset. What makes the ‘sphere work, though, is that it really is bottom-up and authentic in a way that official political propaganda isn’t. What we see here today, though, is that there’s a reason official political propaganda is neither bottom-up nor authentic — if you don’t vet the shit out of everything, mistakes get made. Everyone bemoans the scriptedness of contemporary politicians, but when an unscripted guy goes and gives a scary unscriped scream (and we all know who we’re talking about) the walls fall down.
Similarly with the blogs. If the ‘sphere is going to stay entertaining and have a real audience (the way rightwing talk radio does) politicians have to avoid getting too closely associated with it, otherwise you wind up getting some of the mud on you when someone gets out of line.
That about covers it, I think.
I’ve started to post on the whole Kos thing a couple of times but wound up deleting because there’s really not much to say without just piling on or touching a raw nerve. I’m frankly rather sympathetic to Kos’ sentiment that mercenaries aren’t as morally praiseworthy as American soldiers who fight for their country rather than whoever happens to hire them. But the occasion of the brutal murder of four Americans who hired on in support of a noble cause isn’t the time to have that discussion–let alone in such a meanspirited manner.
Update: I knew I shouldn’t have gotten into this one.
I disagree with Kos as to this particular situation–they were engaged in a legitimate enterprise sanctioned by the US government and their deaths while doing work to help rebuild Iraq is a tragedy–but clearly this is a group of mercenaries by normal definitions. From their website:
Blackwater’s security specialists have extensive experience in all dimensions of domestic and international security operations, particularly in high-risk zones. *** Blackwater Mobile Security Teams stand ready to be deployed around the world with little notice in support of US national security objectives, private or foreign interests. [emphasis added]
It’s pretty clear what they’re up to.
Peter Singer, a casual acquaintance of mine who has become probably the authority on the issue of mercenaries (he wrote his dissertation on it at Harvard a few years ago) is interviewed in the International Herald Tribune on this.
This is basically a new phenomenon: corporatized, private military services doing the front-line work soldiers used to do,” said Peter Singer, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has written “Corporate Warriors,” a book on the industry. “And they’re not out there screening passengers at the airports,” he said. “They’re taking mortar and sniper fire.”
Blackwater, which operates from a 5,200-acre training ground in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina, is a private military firm that provides an array of services once performed solely by military personnel. The company trains soldiers in counterterrorism and urban warfare. It also provides the American government with soldiers for hire: former Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy Seals. In February it started training former Chilean commandos Ã¢€” some of whom served under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet Ã¢€” for future service in Iraq.
Business is booming at Blackwater, and the company is hardly alone. Private contractors are an invisible but growing part of how war is now fought. Some 10,000 of them are serving in Iraq Ã¢€” one private worker for every 10 soldiers Ã¢€” more than the number of soldiers from Britain, America’s largest coalition partner. Some are supplied by well-known corporations like Halliburton. But for the most part, the private military industry is dominated by more obscure businesses with names that seem designed to tell as little as possible about what the company does.