“I would think the CIA and some other intelligence agencies may have people in the upper echelons who have a better understanding of operations like what Erik is proposing,” Rohrabacher said.
“The biggest drawback is, our military people, our military professionals just hate the idea of not using regular combat units in which there is a really command and control aspect of the mission,” Rohrabacher said.
Critics say Prince’s plan will lead to a moral and legal quagmire, as contractors from around the world fighting in place of U.S. forces present a host of possible problems. What happens if a Canadian, for example, kills an Afghan civilian while fighting as a contractor under the leadership of the American “viceroy”? What if the contractors get in a real bind—does the U.S. send our military in to help them?
“Quality is a problem, accountability is a problem,” said McFate, who wrote a book about modern mercenary warfare. McFate raised the possibility of the Prince fighting force changing allegiances: “It could go into business for itself. It could be bought out by ISIS, China, Russia.”
Over the past 10 years, the industry has become increasingly regulated and professionalized, said Deborah Avant, a Denver University professor who studies mercenaries.
“I would say that most of the industry from 2007 on became sort of increasingly professionalized, normalized according to particular regulatory structures,” she said. “Erik Prince decided to completely go against that.”
Prince sold Blackwater in 2010—Feinberg reportedly considered investing in it—and now heads the Chinese-owned Frontier Services Group, which he says primarily does logistics. He moved to Abu Dhabi in 2010, where he raised an army of Colombian mercenaries for the United Arab Emirates in 2011, but told me he’s now based full-time in Virginia. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s education secretary, and Prince was an enthusiastic backer of the president during his campaign. He even met with a Russian national close to the Kremlin in the Seychelles during the transition. The Washington Post reported the meeting was an effort to set up a backchannel between Trump and the Russians. Prince told me he didn’t even know the Russian’s name, and only met with him briefly.
One criticism of the Feinberg and Prince plans is that they are being proposed by people who potentially stand to make a profit off of them.
“I think it will make Erik Prince billions of dollars while he loses the war for us,” a congressional aide who has seen the plan said.
Prince’s argument essentially boils down to: So what?
“If someone is doing that, saving the customer money, is making a profit so bad?” he said. “And let me flip that on its head even more. Before anyone throws that accusation, I think they should interview all the former generals, all the former Pentagon generals, and all the boards they serve on, and all their recommendations … advocating for the Pentagon $50 billion approach to continue on like we’ve been doing for the last 16 years. Which one is it going to be? I’m happy to have that debate.”