The Doobie Brothers sang "Blackwater".

In 1651, the bookish Englishman Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan.  In it, he ruminated on humans’ cession of their natural rights to a sovereign state in return for protection.  The social contract ended the war of all against all and saved us from a life that he described, in a state of nature, as "nasty, brutish, and short".

The late news of a private security company’s shoot-first policy in Iraq reminded Blawgletter of the old philosopher.  Why?  Because Blackwater operated in a "very murky" legal context.  Iraqi law didn’t apply; the Coalition Provisional Authority exempted Blackwater before handing the scepter to the Iraqi Interim Government on June 28, 2004.  Nor did military rules restrain the contractor’s behavior; it worked mainly for the Department of State.

Hobbes’s state of nature strikes us as aptly describing the present situation in Iraq — at least as it relates to Iraqis and outfits like Blackwater.  The defenders of the enterprise cite its challenging mission as justification for 195 Iraq shooting incidents, in 80 percent of which its people fired first.  But we think that Hobbes would have well understood the Blackwaterian impulse.  In the state of nature, before a social contract, self-defense trumped all other considerations.  Only when a sovereign capable of protecting the people arrived would individuals rationally give up their right to kill anyone who seemed to threaten them.

Blackwater’s guilt or innocence, in our view, doesn’t matter.  "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves."

Barry Barnett

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