Via Roger in comments to Chris’s post below, Michael Walzer mounts what can only be regarded as an unprovoked dawn raid on his own reputation.
The topic is the ethics of using mercenaries (or at least, that is the formal topic; at a deeper level, the topic is the same as the topic of everything Walzer’s written in the last ten years; that sadly, oh so sadly, “the left” simply doesn’t believe in its principles with the same seriousness and intellectual depth which Walzer does. It’s frankly the philosophical equivalent of “I was into your favourite band before they started to suck”, and it’s frankly becoming tedious).
And so we churn on; Walzer concludes that yes, indeed it probably isn’t possible or advisable to have rich states going round interfering in other countries via plausibly deniable and unaccountable private sector catspaws, but dammit, why don’t any of you people intellectually engage with the case for doing so? Always poisoning the debate, aren’t you, Beavis? This is all apropos of pouring a bucket of shit over Jeremy Schahill, for writing a history of Blackwater and having the temerity to assume that listing all the things that this corporation had got up to over the last ten years might be condemnation enough, without adding a Walzerian essay about the role of the state.
All of which is en route to the payoff, which is that Michael Walzer is, on the basis of no very obvious understanding of what the hell is going on in Darfur, prepared to write a political blank cheque of support for anyone who wants to pay the bill for Blackwater to go in and “stop the killing” (they said in the Napoleonic era that amateurs talk tactics, generals talk strategy and commanders talk logistics; they didn’t realise that two hundred years later we’d have invented a new category of warrior that didn’t even think about tactics, but was prepared to beat the drum on the basis of empty generalities). Emphasis added.
Speaking at a conference of arms merchants and war contractors in Amman, Jordan, in March 2006, Blackwater vice chairman J. Cofer Black offered to stop the killing in Darfur. “We’ve war-gamed this with professionals,” he said. “We can do this.” Back in the United States, another Blackwater official, Chris Taylor, reiterated the offer.
Since neither the United Nations nor nato has any intention of deploying a military force that would actually be capable of stopping the Darfur genocide, should we send in mercenaries? Scahill quotes Max Boot, the leading neoconservative writer on military affairs, arguing forcefully that there is nothing else to do. Allowing private contractors to secure Darfur “is deemed unacceptable by the moral giants who run the United Nations,” Boot writes. “They claim that it is objectionable to employ—sniff—mercenaries. More objectionable, it seems, than passing empty resolutions, sending ineffectual peace-keeping forces and letting genocide continue.”
Some of us might prefer something like the International Brigade that fought in Spain over a force of Blackwater mercenaries. But the International Brigade was also a private militia, organized by the Comintern and never under the control of the Spanish republic. Does it matter that most of its members fought for ideological rather than commercial reasons? Scahill tells us that Blackwater is run by far-right Christian nationalists—for me, as for him, that doesn’t make things better.
Whatever Blackwater’s motives, I won’t join the “moral giants” who would rather do nothing at all than send mercenaries to Darfur. If the Comintern could field an army and stop the killing, that would be all right with me, too. But we should acknowledge that making this exception would also be a radical indictment of the states that could do what has to be done and, instead, do nothing at all. There should always be public accountability for military action—and sometimes for military inaction as well.
Walzer, if I remember correctly, didn’t support the Iraq War (although of course, he opposed it with the same lugubrious I-thoroughly-condemn-everyone-who-agrees-with-me manner as everything else he’s done of late, and he is basically in favour of lots of equally daft and lethal ideas, so as with so many other Euston Manifesto signatories, I wonder why he bothered). But really, is there any learning going on here? If “intellectual engagement” with these arguments means “taking seriously the unsubstantiated bellicose table talk of a man with a ten year track record of bloody chaos and failure”, then kindly engage me out.
And I see, of course, that those of us who broadly believe that the drafters of the Geneva Conventions got the compromise more or less right in 1948 and there is no pressing need for a redraft of those conventions to make wars of aggression easier to start, don’t get to have our ideas engaged with. One of Walzer’s commenters sums up the view of those paragraphs eminently well, saying:
“doing something is better than doing nothing”
here’s an idea to engage with; no it’s not.