Return of the Prince

“DEMOCRACY is untidy,” said Donald Rumsfeld.

“It sure is,” we Michiganders nod, watching our state legislators navigate fecklessly between tax increases and budget cuts trying to keep Lansing’s ship of state afloat.

The autumn has been spent under the threat of a government shutdown over the state budget imbroglio. The big solution: a “service tax” on palm readers and balloon-o-grams and cuts in spending on the environment and natural resources. And whom to blame? The lame ducks in the executive branch or the lame brains in the legislative? A pox on all houses, the insurgent classes mumble; recall and impeachment petitions circulate.

Channel surfing among such vexations I came across the fresh-faced testimony of one of our own: Erik Prince, founder and chief executive of Blackwater, testifying to Congress and Charlie Rose. He seemed everywhere a few weeks ago, doing damage control after his factotums dispatched — with extreme prejudice — some Iraqi civilians who came too close to a Blackwater convoy.

Michigan-born, Michigan-bred, Michigan-educated — a second-generation Michigan magnate: Mr. Prince is a proud Christian soldier and former Navy Seal.

Blackwater is “a very robust temp agency,” he told Charlie Rose, “we have 55-plus Ph.D.’s, people that are expert in civic water projects, electrical power grids, sanitation, agricultural experts, helicopter pilots.” He continued: “The recruiting, the vetting, the equipping, the training. We do all that and we turn them over to operational control, and they fill that job dictated by the U.S. government customer.”

And this is a man who knows from governments and customers. Blackwater’s forces have done post-Mission-Accomplished Iraq, post-Katrina New Orleans. They would have done Rwanda, but weren’t in business yet. They’ve more or less offered to do Darfur.

And here’s the best part: no “legacy costs.” They come in, clean up the mess and turn the keys to the kingdom back to whoever hired them: think Clint Eastwood in “A Fistful of Dollars.” No debates or diplomacy. No lifelong pensions or cushy health care. No consensus or compromise. These guys live in the no-spin zone. No talks to the Rotary or Elks or Chamber of Commerce. No public scrutiny or approval needed. Just business, private business. As for the profits, that’s private too.

Mr. Prince’s brother-in-law — the Amway heir Dick Devos — ran for governor and lost last year, after spending $35 million of his own fortune. His platform included the privatization of Michigan’s schools. If schools, why not armies? If armies why not legislatures? A Michigan solution for Michigan’s trouble!

So I say, come home, Erik Prince! Say yes to Michigan! We need you and your iron-pumping, shaved-head, sun-glassed, special-ops sorts back in Lansing and Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids — guys who get by on guts and having God on their side to wrest Michigan’s fiscal woes from the dithering public servants who are traveling outside the Green Zone here.

According to the company Web site: “Blackwater lives its core values of excellence, efficiency, execution and teamwork. In doing this, we have become the most responsive, cost-effective means of affecting the strategic balance in support of security and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere.”

Freedom and democracy everywhere! If it works in Baghdad, why not Lansing? If it works in Lansing, we could do Washington!

Come home, sweet Prince. Sold, American!

Thomas Lynch, a funeral director, is the author, most recently, of the memoir “Booking Passage.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

November 25, 2007
The Return of the Prince

Milford, Mich.