Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bill Clinton and Erik Prince: Three Degrees of Separation

I haven't seen the Clinton Foundation donors list for myself yet, since their website is still jammed and inaccessible. Anyway, the list is reportedly 2,922 pages long and not searchable, and no one with a normal home life will stay on his computer late into the night clicking "next" 2,922 times. So I'm relying on news media stories like this one in the Washington Post for the details of today's surprising revelation that one of ex-President Bill Clinton's donors was the Blackwater Training Center, home base of Blackwater Worldwide and its CEO, Erik Prince.

By the way, if you click on that story, dig deep; the WAPO buried the Blackwater item in paragraph 14 of a 19-paragraph story. I'm not sure whether that means they rated it low in news interest, or whether they were confused about how to report something that seems to implicate Bill Clinton and cause a problem for incoming SecState Hillary Clinton.

Granted, Prince was among the lesser fatcats on Clinton's list - in for only $10,001 to $25,000, rather than for millions like the Saudi Arabians and Barbra Streisand - nevertheless, there he was. So the question of the hour is: What was Erik Prince, the man liberals love to hate, doing on the list of Bill Clinton's 205,000 closest friends?

The controversies that have plagued Blackwater in Iraq, and it's main customer there, the U.S. State Department, are all too well-known. I find plenty of fault with Blackwater's operations in Iraq, and with the inadequate management provided by it's employer, as well. However, Prince has been demonized beyond what the facts justify and out of all sense of proportion. In the left-wing mind, Prince is the conservative Condottieri, the entrepreneur of mercenary mayhem, the impresario of death and destruction, the Praetorian protector of corporate interests, the commander of the Fundamentalist Freikorps, and - for all I know - the personal bodyguard to Dick Cheney himself. The picture presented by much of the news media and by various politicians is just too lurid and hyperventilating to be true.

So far as I can see, Erik Prince is just a former Navy SEAL who came from a wealthy family. When his father died, he left the Navy, put on a different kind of blue suit, and went into business for himself by founding and financing Blackwater Training Center, a place where he could employ a few Navy buddies and make some money training corporate security and law enforcement types. A remarkable biography, but really nothing extraordinary until the Iraq and Afghanistan wars created a huge demand for private protection contractors, resulting in Blackwater collecting over $1 billion in U.S. Government contracts between 2002 and 2008.

Prince appears to be the polar opposite of Bill Clinton. He's very private, very right-wing, and very religiously devout, a straight-laced military businessman and father of six who is hip-deep in Republican causes. What in the world led him to donate money to the Clinton Foundation? Which of Bill's worthy causes attracted Prince's interest? Was it health security, economic empowerment, leadership development and citizen service, or racial, ethnic and religious reconciliation? Or maybe HIV/AIDS, climate change, or fighting childhood obesity? Frankly, none of them sound like Prince's cup of tea. Maybe it was tsunami relief.

Bill Clinton and Erik Prince. Who or what could possibly bring this odd couple together? Could it be ... Hillary's political strategist Mark Penn ?

Last year, when the Democratic Party primary battle was getting started, some people pointed out the connection between Blackwater and Mark Penn. John Edwards was one. Bill Moyers was another. The below transcript from a PBS interview is typical:

BILL MOYERS: I was intrigued to learn that the PR-agency that is handling Prince, Burson-Marsteller , is also the guy who heads - the CEO is also Hillary Clinton's top strategist, Mark Penn.


BILL MOYERS: Mark Penn. Sort of-- he's been called Hillary's Rove. What-- I know something about how this system works. How a PR company comes to you and says hey I've got this client that would like to be on air here. Here's how we'd like to do it. And then, you see the same thing in being repeated from show to show to show — like Hillary Clinton was on all five of the Sunday morning talk shows recently. What have you learned about how the system works between the political and media elites?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, PR-companies are also mercenaries and I know oftentimes work for the highest bidder. I think it's interesting that--

BILL MOYERS: They're not shooting people though.

JEREMY SCAHILL: No, no, no. But they're mercenaries in the sense that they'll rent their services out to anyone. And once you're defending Erik Prince, you're working for him, then you become part of his sort of mercenary operation. I also think that it was a strategic choice to go with the company with Mark Penn because of his connection with the democrats and Hillary Clinton.

But let's, lets remember here we're talking about Blackwater right now because we have a Republican administration. For so many years, we had a Republican dominated Congress. Blackwater is certainly the beneficiary of the Republican monopoly in government. But this system has been bi-partisan for a very long time.

When Hillary Clinton's husband was in the White House, he was an aggressive supporter of the privatization of the war machine. Bill Clinton used mercenary forces in the Balkans. Who do we think gave Dick Cheney's company all of those contracts during the Nineties? We talk about Halliburton. It was Clinton. It was the Clinton administration. And, and, Blackwater may be an extraordinary Republican company. But they're gonna be around when there's a Democrat in office.

It makes sense to me. Why not give Bill Clinton a little cash (and pay lots more to Hillary's chief political aide) when your government contracting business is going to be around long after the Bush Administration is gone?

No comments: