In Black Waters: From the British East India Company to the American South Asia Company
“Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war? Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power or glory? Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned by the cupidity of territory or dominion? Has”
― Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
From the Roman and Carthaginian empires through the Renaissance, mercenaries were hired by governments, kings, private entities. But then, mercenaries were individual soldiers of fortune. In recent years, we’ve begun to think of mercenaries again- from the Bosnian conflict to Russia’s hiring of the Slavonic Corps via private contract to fight for Assad in Syria. But it wasn’t until Blackwater that Soldiers of Fortune became Big Business. Now Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince is on the precipice of a new capitalistic paramilitary occupation for profit model. If he achieves his ambition, there will be no way to stop it.
· “The Blackwater of Jihad” is a brilliant article about Malhama Tactical- a well branded, well marketed Instagram-account-carrying corporate paramilitary group providing fighters and training in Syria and elsewhere
Erik Prince has been busy expanding operations in China and masterminding a mercenary plot more nefarious than any seen on the silver screen. In January, the UAE arranged a secret meeting in the Seychelles Islands between senior Russian officials and Erik Prince as an unofficial surrogate of the Trump Administration. The meeting was picked up by the FBI as part of a wider probe into the Russian interference in the US 2016 election, but the FBI has not yet commented.
While the Trump team has disavowed any relationship to Erik Prince, his sister is the Secretary of Education, he was witnessed at multiple transition team meetings just prior to Trump’s inauguration with Jared Kushner and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and two other NSC members, and has reportedly donated a quarter of a million dollars directly to Trump’s campaign, and 10M in total from his family to the GOP Super PACs.
Though the Seychelles meeting was secret, the presumed intent was to establish a backdoor channel from the White House to the Kremlin. One objective of that relationship was to encourage Russia to distance itself from Iran, particularly in Syria. This of course would logically require a reduction in US sanctions against Russia, which would be difficult to do openly in the post-election environment.
Steven Simon, a National Security Council senior director for the Middle East and North Africa in the Obama White House, said: “The idea of using business cutouts, or individuals perceived to be close to political leaders, as a tool of diplomacy is as old as the hills. These unofficial channels are desirable precisely because they are deniable; ideas can be tested without the risk of failure.”
That the United Arab Emirates would broker the meeting is not surprising considering Prince’s business connections in that country; the UAE has reportedly paid Prince’s company $529M to bring in foreign fighters to “assemble an internal paramilitary force capable of carrying out secret operations and protecting Emirati installations from terrorist attacks.” What would be surprising is if Zayed, known for his caution, had organized this meeting without at least a nod, if not green light, from both Russia and the US presidential officials. Interestingly, the UAE is one of the GCC countries attacking Qatar, in also calling for Qatar to cut relations with Iran.
Both the UAE and US have a concerted interest in eroding Russian ties to Iran and both major Russian players and UAE President Sheik Zayed own extensive property in the Seychelles. Former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul was also approached by the Trump administration about ways to move Russia away from Iran, to which he responded “there is no interest in Russia ever doing that. They have a long relationship with Iran. They’re allied with Iran in fighting in Syria. They sell weapons to Iran. Iran is an important strategic partner for Russia in the Middle East.”
And so, if the pseudo-diplomatic back channel has not yet born fruit, is it possible Prince is part of another more strong-armed attempt to put Russia back “in its place” or to isolate Iran? Is this possibly why a main condition of the Gulf Cooperation Council was for Qatar to cut ties with Iran? Is the point that Qatar cut off Iran, or is the point for Iran later to be cut off from Qatar? It seems a little out there unless you consider how strong the alliances between Russia, Iran and Syria are. Turkey is lately allied with Russia and another condition of the GCC was to close the Turkish base in Qatar, which Russia cannot allow and keep Turkish cooperation in Syria. It’s entirely possible that Qatar is nothing more than a pawn in big power politics, caught between the US and Saudi Arabia on one side, and Russia and Iran on the other. This is the definition of a proxy war, and there’s nothing better than mercenaries for fighting proxy wars.
Prince appeared on Fox New Tucker Carlson’s show in May. “Prince proposed a for-profit military occupation similar to the 19th c British East India Company model, where a small corporation governed a foreign population by stripping it of its natural resources. Prince said the US model in Afghanistan is faulty- “We’ve fought for the last 15 years with the 1st Infantry Division model,” he says. “Now we should fight with an East India Company model, and do it much cheaper.” It follows that much of what was discussed here was probably at least in part what was discussed in secret in the Seychelles. Remember this wouldn’t be the first time the US and Russia have fought a proxy war in Afghanistan. His corporate model very well could be used as leverage with Russia, particularly when coupled with attempts to separate Russian spheres of influence and allies.
What Prince proposed goes much further than the original Blackwater mercenary model; it’s a corporate colonization. Keep in mind mercenaries are already illegal according to Geneva Convention Article 47, but that hasn’t stopped Blackwater or others before. Prince’s success would rest on three dependencies:
1. Civilian-military control (DOD) must be weakened to allow for private armed corporation.
2. Prince’s mercenaries have to be outsourced to cheaper-than-American armed labor. Blackwater in the early 2000s was paying $600 a day to American contractors where the Afghan annual per capita income is $300.
3. The funding model must change from US DoD paying the contracts (over 1B to Blackwater in Iraq war) to resource extraction, just like the East India model.
Prince said, “there’s a trillion dollars in value in the ground: mining, minerals, and another trillion in oil and gas.” Zero dependence on US federal funding would be awfully appealing to Americans citizens and some its military members tired of multi-trillion dollar debt in the endless modern Vietnam war in “the ‘Stan”. A “war that pays for itself” and even generates profit, would be very appealing to a CEO- CIC such as we have. Of course no dependence on the US fed would also make Prince’s firm virtually impervious to Congressional or any kind of governmental oversight. And that ought to scare us as much as any terrorist cell. Extra-judicial, extra-military, extra-legislative, extra-executive powers for Prince’s company would represent the pinnacle, the nirvana state, of the military-industrial complex, and the ultimate beheading of the rule of law and international cooperation.
The idea itself would almost seem implausible if Prince hadn’t already become a multi-billionaire from his paramilitary companies, and if he weren’t close to the current administration, having advised members of Trump’s team on multiple occasions on “restricting” the military towards “outsourcing”. Part of Prince’s meetings with the NSC members and others on the Trump transition team was on “restructuring of security agencies” and “a thorough rethink of costly defense programs.” We already know this arrangement would appeal to Trump, as he’s claimed publicly the US should have taken Iraq’s oil to recoup the costs of the war. At a time when the push to prevent the US government from adopting budgets that carry a deficit is at a high, selling this capitalistic vision might find more support than we’d otherwise think- it does after all make good fiscal sense.
But as writer Matthew Pulver has pointed out, capitalism must also continually expand and grow at at least 3% or it’s a recession. Prince has admitted this model changes the objectives of a war from counterterrorism and nation building to eternal occupation. So, what then is to stop a capitalistic occupation from further spreading for continual profit increase? Where will the new growth come from once Afghanistan is tapped? And who is to say the Afghans will oblige us in laboring to bring us the plunder? Who will be the shareholders of this company of plunder and who will advocate to end a war that is making them money? There will be no shortage of conflicts of interests.
From mercenaries to GCC and Qatar, the blurring of corporate and executive in the current administration, to proxy war and counterterrorism- these things are all connected. The US and Russia are in a new Cold War and the battlefield stretches from American shores to the Ukraine, from Syria to Qatar, a web of deceit and destruction at every parallel. I am reminded of Eisenhower’s saying he hated war as only a soldier can and then I can only imagine his utter disgust at such ethical bankruptcy, as if we haven’t had hundreds of years to understand the generational damage of colonialism. And then the idea of outsourcing the US military to hired thugs is a nauseating affront to our soldiers. Prince’s proposed model isn’t simply blockade running or war profiteering; these are the very black waters that will wash away thousands of years of governance.