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Just as Blackwater had finally fallen from the headlines and the boys in Moyock thought their State Department contract would be quietly renewed, their worst nightmare has hit: Blackwater is a campaign issue. In an ironic twist of politics, Blackwater head honcho Erik Prince is now on the same side of the contractor issue as Senator Barack Obama -- more or less.
Senator Hillary Clinton broke her longstanding silence on private security contractors in Iraq. Her senate office announced late Thursday that she is co-sponsoring a bill to ban "Blackwater and other private mercenary firms in Iraq."
The timing of the announcement is particularly curious. It comes less than a day after the investigative journalist and Blackwater critic Jeremy Scahill published a piece in The Nation reporting that, if elected, "Obama will not 'rule out' using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq." The campaign also informed Scahill that Obama would not be signing on to legislation banning the use of contractors in war zones by 2009. [Obama previously pushed in the Senate a bill to force some transparency into the private military contractor business -- ed.]
It appears that Clinton's campaign realized the risk Obama was taking and picked up the issue in an attempt to outflank Obama on the left and pick up the vote of Blackwater opponents.
I’m not sure Hillary’s campaign will get much traction on it, however. At the end of the day, it’s only a five sentence statement of intent, coming after her being 8 years on the Armed Services Committee, a full year after Obama issues his bill on contracting, 7 months after the Blackwater shootings, and 6 months after Obama’s bill becomes the core of much of the latest round of reforms in the Defense Authorization act. Maybe she’s trying to get some pop by doing this 5 days before the OH and TX primaries.
Hillary Rodham Clinton declared Wednesday that her primary victories in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island had reordered the Democratic presidential race in her favor. A resilient Barack Obama countered with fresh pledges of support from superdelegates and said his lead remained intact.
Still, although McCain is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, he has not been particularly vocal on the use of rented security personnel in Iraq and other locations around the world.
While attention may be focused on Iraq, the U.S. government is also spending substantial cash on private security contractors in Africa. I had never heard of the AFRICAP contract until today, when I noted that the Department of State is looking to recompete a contract worth approximately one billion dollars to train peacekeepers and provide military logistics in Africa: