Friday, November 2, 2007

Who drives against traffic in a traffic circle?

While trawling the blogosphere I recently came across someone rhetorically asking Who drives against traffic in a traffic circle?, with regards to the recent Blackwater firefight at Nisoor Square, Baghdad.

A fair question. The State Department contract with Blackwater, which is about 1,000 pages long and extensively detailed, stipulate that State Department convoys travel quickly and drive aggressively. Furthermore, no State Department official ever travels with less than three vehicles and they're always the biggest stuff they can find, with those obnoxious "Warning: Stay Back" signs and all of that.

This is in contrast to the CIA, which drives around Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, with contract security, all the time, but doesn't run into trouble. Why? Because they're riding in unmarked beat-up pickups and following traffic patterns. The difference, surprisingly, is not the contractors - both employ them - but the agency that hires them and the terms of the contracts.

It's sad to think that the State Department officially has the lead for public diplomacy. Who most heavily opposed the State Department terms under which Blackwater is employed? The Department of Defense (which also employs contractors, but again, under different terms), folks who actually know a thing or two about public diplomacy, even though it's not their primary duty.

The State Department contract also stipulated that diplomatic security guards must wear wrap-around sunglasses (a cultural faux pas in the Arabic world) and prohibited facial hair (another cultural faux pas). Just what were these State Department boys learning at Georgetown?

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