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Starting a good-faith political dialogue doesn’t start with Erik Prince

In a recent edition of The Round Table, it was announced by Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) that Erik Prince will be visiting Beloit College to speak about the contributions of private military companies towards US national security.

YAF has the right to advocate for bringing different voices and perspectives to a campus that is overwhelmingly left; it is critical to be familiar with views that are not your own, and to be able to have a civil and informed discussion that does not succumb to party lines and divisive rhetoric from either end of the spectrum.

To do so, however, requires a notion of good faith from both parties of the conversation, and I do not see how YAF’s decision to invite Prince furthers this objective. By highlighting nominally admirable traits about Prince and explicitly ignoring the many controversies around him, YAF is proving they really do not respect the opinions of people they say drown out their voice. More importantly, it also proves their unwillingness to use common sense when deciding who they should invite to represent the values and ideas they hold dear.

In 2004, three Blackwater contractors were killed in Fallujah, Iraq and had their burned and mutilated bodies hoisted up onto a bridge. There is no doubt that this is a horrific event in a war that saw an obscene amount of atrocities and bloodshed. One would nominally think the families of those perished contractors have a right to the truth of what happened to their loved ones, especially when there was evidence they were sent into the situation with “inadequate equipment and protection.” Instead of having closure on the circumstances that led to the deaths of their dear ones, the families of those contractors became embroiled in a civil suit against powerful Blackwater legal teams for fears their desire to know more would lead to more transparency about Blackwater’s endeavours abroad and impede “the exclusive authority of the military of the federal government to conduct military operations abroad.’”

In post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Blackwater sent a rescue team and helicopter free of charge. This was in addition to 200 employees (164 of them on formal federal contracts) to assist in recovery efforts on a 30-day agreement. Simultaneous to this, Blackwater accepted private contracts to protect mansions and other properties in the area, and were repeatedly seen driving around carrying assault rifles and using unmarked cars. Blackwater’s presence in New Orleans cost the federal government (in other words, taxpayers) $240,000 per day in exchange for parading around with M16s and blacked out vehicles that caused intimidation and even more chaos in a disaster zone.

Today, his new company Frontier Services Group (FSG) has helped build and operate a training camp in China’s Xinjiang province. If that name strikes you as oddly familiar, it’s probably because that is the same province where China is currently detaining likely more than a million ethnic Uighurs in “indoctrination camps” for the crime of being Muslims and having their own unique ethnic identity. To further stomp them out, the government is ushering in Han Chinese settlers to eradicate Uighur presence in the region. Prince has claimed he knew nothing about this beforehand. While that could be true, what has he done about it now that he has been made aware? He has not severed FSG’s contracts or ties to the Chinese government (the company is involved with the Belt and Road Initiative, particularly in Africa, but I would also note that this economic program has direct relevance to the ongoing Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar).

For someone who helped truly globalize PMCs as we know them today, who lauds the free market and advocated for privatizing the war in Afghanistan, it also strikes me as peculiar that Prince would join and participate in the efforts of an authoritarian country the U.S. officially recognizes as a serious, potentially dangerous rival that could, in the event of a war, cost an enormous amount of American lives. Some would say diplomacy will be key in navigating such tense negotiations between the powers. Prince’s ventures are no such thing.

These cases are only a snapshot of Erik Prince’s career as a businessman. For desire of space I won’t even go into his disturbing record on LGBT rights and other gross human rights abuses he is connected to throughout the world. To argue that he himself is not at fault because it was not he himself who personally pulled the trigger is a laughable counter-argument I am sure I will hear. As CEO of an international company that explicitly states its mission is to assist governments in military operations, Prince bears direct responsibility for the conduct of his employees. That is a basic concept of leadership.

That Prince has been able to turn a profit from offering security services is not something that should be necessarily celebrated as well. By having access to thousands of private soldiers who are not technically bound by the same sets of international and national laws, PMCs have made it possible for governments to conduct military operations they weren’t necessarily able to before. This creates a dangerous precedent in that the world could see a further rise in armed conflict and violence if it meant someone could continue cashing in on a never ending cycle of offering troops and armaments to those in need of such services.

The point of all this is that  Prince does not represent a chance for YAF to start a civil political discussion over important topics, including national security. If anything it seriously sabotages that goal, because it is more or less an open-palmed slap in the face to anyone who remotely cares or takes interest in how the U.S. conducts itself abroad and impacts the world.

If one’s argument is that someone who was and is known to be a prominent businessmen, and the business he is involved with involves war profiteering and mass violations of human rights, is a shining example of conservative values applied to the real world, what is the strength of that argument? There are countless others that could be invited here to discuss the strengths of a free market, why there should or should not be less government in our lives, and countless other issues we should discuss as a political body. That was not the decision that was made. And it is unfortunate.

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