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Machiavelli and Blackwater

Some people -- primarily commentators on the left -- have described the Bush administration’s polices as "Machiavellian," a synonym for heartlessly realpolitick, but a reading of Machiavelli's The Prince condemns many aspects of current American military strategy.  In particular, the chapter titled, “How Many Kinds Of Soldiery There Are, And Concerning Mercenaries” is surprisingly critical of the Department of Defense’s conduct of our two expeditionary wars, most prominently the use of paid contractors acting as mercenaries.

We can safely say that President Bush and his administration ignored the line that says, "Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous" and they are "disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies."  Machiavelli’s thesis is clear: mercenaries are ineffective as soldiers.

Just as Machiavelli predicts, paid contractors in Iraq have been grossly ineffective, especially in building political bridges between our forces and the Iraqi people. Unburdened by the laws of land warfare, laws that struggle to even contain the U.S. Army, contractors operate on a shoot first, ask questions later agenda. They lack the bravery to follow standard military rules of engagement and have embarrassed America.

Machiavelli levels many criticisms at mercenaries but one rings especially true in our contemporary world. He says that in the face of a danger mercenaries have no "reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you." A soldier who fights for money wants to live to spend; his money is useless to him dead. When four contractors were killed and had their bodies burned in Fallujah, armed contractors in Iraq like Triple Canopy, Black Water and Brown and Roote tightened their policies about leaving FOBs. When faced with danger, they fled.

In 4th Generation Warfare, winning the political and cultural battles are as important as winning the military battles. Allowing mercenaries to fight our wars introduces an element that we cannot control. Contractors will not accept political restraints, exist in a legal vacuum and weaken our efforts on the political and cultural battlefields.

In an attempt to avoid political fallout, the paid soldier of today is called a “contractor.” By any name, they are mercenaries, and America should not employ mercenaries.

four comments

Very cool post! Could not have said it better myself.


Well said and too true.


In defense of the PMCs, they do not have the assets or support available to military units that come under fire. They lacked our CASEVAC birds, our air support, our QRF, and mostly lacked our crew serves and armor. So a more cautious posture was probably best for them —- a lack of capability, not courage.

That being said, I agree with your overall point. Whether or not courage or capability impinged their ability to be effective, they are certainly less capable than equivalent military units.


And yet the mercs are making bank. A guy up the street from me, retired military, is going to Iraq for three months and is being paid a over a hundred grand to escort convoys. What if the government paid that money plus the money obviously are paying to his “employer,” to enlisted soldiers to do the same job. Oh, yes, I forgot. Someone’s pockets wold get lighter.