In the days since 9/11, State has undergone a fundamental shift, one that has required the organization to make a Devils’ Bargain with mercenaries like Academi. Prior to 9/11, State’s policy was generally to evacuate embassies in countries at war, reinserting diplomats when things quieted down to the point that diplomacy was again possible. This strategy worked well for some 220 years of American history.
After 9/11, State felt compelled to out-macho the military, to prove its manliness in the testosterone-fueled Bush (and now Obama) years. This meant opening and/or keeping open embassies in the midst of shooting wars, originally just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now spread alongside America’s increasingly one-tune foreign policy of belligerence to places like South Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere in drone land. The US military, already stretched thin by endless war, has neither the forces nor the interest in guarding State’s pasty pseudo warriors, and so the Department of State is forced to turn to private armies, like Academi, mercenaries, to enable its macho posture abroad.
I saw groups like Blackwater in action in Iraq, often alongside our own military. The mercs were what our military would be like without the NCO corps to enforce discipline, a frat house with guns, lots of guns. While State makes wordplay out of claiming to supervise its mercs, overpaid, ‘roided ‘dudes with guns named Smitty, J-Dub, Spider and the like take little notice when requested to follow the laws of war in protecting diplomats so far out of their environments. It is a situation that isn’t just likely to go wrong, it is one that practically demands to devolve into crisis.
The solution is straightforward. State should understand and admit that it is neither equipped, trained nor needed for combat situations. State should take a step back from adventures that assure its role as negotiators, diplomats, public diplomacists and the like will be misunderstood at best, and refocus its resources away from spending billions on private armies. Until then, State is forced into bed with creepy organizations like Academi, and will suffer for it.