Stop giving Erik Prince op-ed space to talk up hiring mercenaries

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Pepsi’s CEO would like Americans to drink more Pepsi. Ford’s chief would like Americans to drive more Fords. And Erik Prince, head of the international security firm Frontier Services Group and infamous founder of the private military company once known as Blackwater, would like Americans to hire more military contractors in Afghanistan.

These are the most banal, obvious opinions possible: Corporate executives always want more customers. But only one of them received valuable space in the nation’s most prominent op-ed pages to make his pitch.

What is the point of doing this?

Prince has two points in his op-ed in today’s New York Times, which is titled “Contractors, not troops, will save Afghanistan.” First, he writes that people should stop saying mean things about private security firms like the one he runs and saying they employ “mercenaries” because such “paid volunteers” were basically responsible for the defeat of Japan in World War II (I rather think the massive U.S. military forces deployed in the Pacific helped, along with the nuclear weapons, but then, I’ve never run a mercenary force).

And second, he would very much appreciate it if the U.S. would move to an Afghanistan strategy that relied on private security firms like the one he runs. His proposal involves contracting “less than 6,000” mercenaries to “live, train and patrol alongside their Afghan counterparts.” Prince doesn’t explain why it’s important that such a role be played by hired guns rather than U.S. forces, but he does admit that he would be competing for the contracts.

The value to readers of Prince’s pieces, which literally involve shilling for contracts for his own company, are, shall we say, minimal:

The Times op-ed doesn’t even break new ground for Prince. He was similarly granted op-ed space in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal in recent months, and Prince used those platforms to call for the U.S. to employ more private security forces. (Those op-eds also included discussion of creating a “viceroy” for Afghanistan, a suggestion that, while risible, at least doesn’t necessarily involve the author’s economic benefit.) And his proposal has drawn substantial attention from the newsrooms of numerous outlets and been widely criticized by a panoply of national security reporters and experts.

If the Times' opinion editors feel that this debate is an important one and their readers should hear the case that private security forces are the element necessary for stabilizing Afghanistan, they should find an expert who doesn't run a private security force to make that argument. If no such person exists, that in itself speaks volumes about Prince's position.

The Times' opinion section has drawn criticism this year -- including from within the paper’s newsroom -- for hiring climate denier Bret Stephens as a columnist and publishing notorious conspiracy theorist Louise Mensch in its op-ed pages. Meanwhile, the paper sold subscriptions following Trump’s election based on the premise that it would oppose Trumpian “alternative facts.”