Blackwater Was A Tragedy Waiting To Happen

Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.


The worst thing about that report that 14 Iraqi civilians had been killed in Baghdad by members of a private American security firm called Blackwater is that this was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Because, as we now know, private security firms like Blackwater have been operating above the law, setting their own rules outside the military chain of command and the government knew it. Their job was to protect key civilians and as long as they got it done, no one asked questions.

How can that be?

It's another of those short cuts we've become so accustomed to in this war - dangerous times require extraordinary methods.

It's also a lot cheaper, which is why we have contracted out more than 100,000 jobs normally done by soldiers to private contractors in Iraq. It's easier all round, the military has all those rules and regulations and benefits.

It also makes it look like our force in Iraq is a lot smaller than it really is.

It's a bargain all right, until something like the recent tragedy, which sets the whole effort back.

May I have a drum roll here for the clichés - because apparently they were forgotten along the way:

  • Lord Acton said "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely."

  • And then there was your high school civics teacher who told us how the founders came up with the idea of checks and balances on power.

  • And here's one more: you get what you pay for.

    Everything needs a check. When there are no checks, things get out of balance.

    And will we ever learn there are no bargains in war? You have to do it right, to get it right.

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    By Bob Schieffer
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      Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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