When we think about the term “blowback,” we think of the rogues gallery of foreign mercenary forces the United States has created or exploited over the decades who invariably end up turning on their creators. The most prominent among these is Al Qaeda who, legend tells, was created in the Afghan mountains by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. Flush with cash and weapons, this Al Qaeda would go from lauded freedom fighters to America’s preeminent global enemy, conveniently replacing the Soviet Union as the “free world’s” new arch enemy as the Soviet Union collapsed.
Other “blowbacks” in the making include the terrorist forces the United States, many in Europe, and the Persian Gulf monarchies have created in their quest to reorder such nations as Libya, Syria, and now apparently Iraq. Time Magazine’s mid-July 2014 issue includes a story titled literally, “Blowback,” claiming, “with thousands of Westerners fighting for Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq, a foreign jihad no longer seems so distant, and officials fear that some of these fighters may eventually return radicalized by their experience – and ready to bring their war home.”
Either by design or convenience, this predictable “blowback” allows the US, Europe, and others to continue unpopular wars overseas while justifying the expansion of ever increasing security states that stifle opposition at home. But now there is a new kind of “blowback” that students of history recognize well, and while predictable, may be as inevitable as it is unwelcomed by those that created it.
The Irony: Private Security Contractors Increase Insecurity
The New York Times revealed in a stunning report titled, “Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater,” revealed that, “just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.”
New York Times would continue by revealing that “American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators,” revealing the outlaw nature of America’s private contractors was worse than even imagined. The NYT continues, portraying the contractors as drug-addled, unprofessional, and even incompetent, but always very dangerous.
What the State Department was left with was a reality that the United States had trusted the security of Americans to drug addicts, alcoholics, and unpredictable psychopathic killers. While their criminal energy was directed at Iraqis, the US State Department and the US Embassy, who depended on Blackwater for their security, knew that at any moment, this unpredictable, unprofessional organization could easily turn on them and no one could stop them.
Blackwater did not just operate in Iraq. The NYT states that they also were operating as far as China, and the various re-brandings of the organization have operated across multiple continents and amid many conflicts. It, like Al Qaeda, has become an unofficial arm of American hegemony, but Blackwater is neither a novel organization, nor its ultimate failure to achieve America’s goals abroad a surprise.
The Late Roman Empire and the Curse of Mercenary Armies
The Roman Republic was forged by a professional army of highly motivated Romans. The resulting Roman Empire dwindled under and was eventually destroyed by an unprofessional, disjointed network of foreign mercenaries, as part of greater socioeconomic and political decline. Often times, these mercenaries would take turns raiding and pillaging Rome, carving out fiefdoms from Roman territory and allying themselves with Rome’s enemies. While historians can argue whether such chaos amid Rome’s security apparatus was the cause or effect of imperial decline, the growing use of mercenary armies appears to be a feature of hegemonic decline in either case.
For Rome, German Goths that had lined their mercenary ranks eventually overwhelmed and ended the Empire in the West. The problem with employing mercenaries who fight for wealth is that any and all before them are seen as either potential targets or potential obstructions toward greater wealth. The use of temporary and limited numbers of mercenaries has been common practice throughout the ages, but the moment these mercenaries become a permanent, then growing addition to a nation’s or empire’s armed forces, the day they turn on those they serve is inevitable.
Blackwater and other rogue armed factions operating within the West pose as much a danger to those who perceive themselves as benefactors, as to those perceived as the West’s enemies. While the NYT report covers threats that have sent a ripple of shock through Western society regarding a contractor firm already widely reviled, there may have been incidences left unreported where such threats were carried out.
The NYT fails to reveal the hidden and growing influence of America’s private contractors, but students of history know regardless of what NYT reports, that influence and the danger it represents to America today and its future tomorrow, is unquestionably inevitable. It is not a matter of ‘if’ America meets its reckoning with its mercenary armies just as the late Roman Empire did, it is a matter of ‘when.’
Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.