Note: This interview is contained in our fourth print edition “Counterrevolution: The Coming Storms“.

Note: This interview is contained in our fourth print edition “Counterrevolution: The Coming Storms“.

DARING & CONQUEST:
a conversation WITH ERIK PRINCE
WITH ERIK PRINCE

By Benjamin Braddock · 12 December 2023

"Counterrevolution: The Coming Storms": Q&A with Erik Prince

There are two institutions through which the American Empire exercises global hegemonic power: the US dollar and the US military. Dollar supremacy helped establish the post-WWII American standard of living, when wealth became more widely distributed than at any other time in history. It was the golden era of the middle class. Foreign countries settled their international accounts in dollars that could be converted to gold at a fixed exchange rate of $35 per ounce, which was redeemable by the US government.
 
The post-war era ended in 1971 when Nixon closed the gold window. It was never reopened and the US dollar became a fully fiat currency, which led to a new form of imperialism. Under the gold reserve system America had to avoid trade deficits by maintaining strong industrial capacity and a manufacturing base. Under the fiat system American central bankers create dollars from thin air which are then exchanged with other countries for tangible goods like trucks and refrigerators. Because foreign countries hold large reserves of US dollars, the US is able to export a significant chunk of its monetary inflation, boosting its own fiscal and economic position at the expense of other countries. 
 
The cost of having a goose that lays golden eggs is eternal vigilance against the foxes and coyotes. The dollar has been the global reserve currency for so long because it reliably capped the rate of inflation at a reasonable 2% since the 1980s, and because the US military’s capability of ensuring its supremacy was unquestioned. Now, both of those points are in question. In recent years we have seen double-digit inflation in the prices of basic necessities and what looks like a major decline in the US military’s readiness posture. Victory in military conflicts is no longer assured or inevitable. This recognition feeds a sense of American decline.
 
To understand what has gone wrong with America’s military, one can consider  the rise of the private military contractor Blackwater. The fact that Blackwater was required in the first place should have been a warning sign. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Blackwater was responsible for the protection of federal government facilities in the disaster zone. But why was Blackwater securing the facilities instead of federal law enforcement officers? Because the labor union representing the officers blocked them from being deployed. During the same period, Blackwater was villainized in the press and by liberals in Congress, not despite its ability to get things done, but because of it. As a Brookings Institution report put it: “the war in Iraq would not be possible without private military contractors.” 
 
A primary goal of the Revolution is the transformation of the US military into a subservient, politicized force: essentially, to turn the military into the armed wing of the Democratic Party. For the Left, destroying America’s ability to project power globally was the goal, and companies like Blackwater stood in their way.

I sat down with former Navy SEAL officer and Blackwater founder Erik Prince to discuss the state of the US military, what he would do to fix it, and lessons from his life and career. Among his current projects is the “Unplugged” phone, a privacy-focused smartphone aimed at solving the security shortcomings of both Apple and Android operating systems. What follows is transcript of our conversation which took place on November 29, 2023.

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Note: The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Benjamin Braddock: What is your assessment of the current state of the military? 

Erik Prince: I would argue the peacetime military throwing more and more money at the organizations compounded bad habits, especially after 9/11. Compare what happened in World War II, when the officers that were largely in charge at the start of the war were not the ones in charge one, two, let alone four years later. After 9/11 there were never any housecleanings in the US military. We just added more and more to the bloat. I remember at one point in Iraq, there were ninety-three flag officers on the ground. Ninety-three, in an effort that was ultimately extremely expensive and that the US lost. Anyone who says that Iraq is a success story today is kidding themselves, because it is absolutely owned and subjugated by the Iranians. As the organization was going to war, I remember in 2005, they were stressed for manpower, trying to keep up this deployment rate for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The army usually promoted 3 out of 4 officers from Captain to Major, but this time they promoted 95%. In any organization, it’s good to cut out the turds. In this case, all the turds got promoted and have gone on to higher and higher ranks, and that kind of systemic bloat and corruption of the organizations gave us what we have today. On top of that, there’s both congressional pressure and congressional cowardice. Any organization that doesn’t go through housecleanings will always get worse and worse. Even private organizations in a competitive environment have to clean house or they will eventually fail. The military just keeps getting more and more money thrown at it and compounding every bad habit. And so no one says “You know, that was a really bad idea, let’s not do that again”. The bad ideas just get perpetuated, and that’s what we have today. I worry that if our military were actually stressed in a peer-to-peer fight, a winning outcome is not inevitable.

Benjamin Braddock: I often wonder if the country still has the will to win a war…

Erik Prince: That’s because we have wars of convenience and not wars of extinction…

Benjamin Braddock: I look at our foreign policy, how we’ll take something like Ukraine and make it our plaything for a little while. Ukrainian flags were flown everywhere, even in remote places like rural West Virginia, but now that there’s a new geopolitical flashpoint, it seems like Ukraine has become a Christmas dog dumped on the side of the road. What do you make of all this? 

Erik Prince: Ukraine is losing. They don’t have enough manpower. They have deficiencies in weaponry and it’s a slow grind to defeat. They need to find an offramp quickly to settle it or it’s gonna get much, much worse for them. When you look at history, most of the carnage and the heavy losses occur in the last phases of a war. So bringing the war in Ukraine to a close quickly is essential. The American habit of not winning a war, not managing conflict, and not trying to get to some kind of diplomatic resolution, that is being imposed on Israel now. Israel has an opponent that says “Yeah, we’ll do October 7th again and again until there’s no Jews left.” That’s what the Hamas leadership is saying. That’s a war of tribal extinction. And the Biden administration is doing all it can to pressure Israel into making accommodations for people who want to kill them. 

Benjamin Braddock: I think there’s some of that internally, too. 

Erik Prince: Oh yes, there’s plenty. Because Hamas, or better – it goes much deeper than Hamas – the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in America is far more prevalent than most people want to recognize. The single biggest outside donor to American universities is Qatar, and they have been working very hard with the Islamic student associations and CAIR and all the rest. They’re almost like what the Sinn Féin was to the IRA. They’re the fundraising/happy face of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, etc. It’s basically a Sharia-supremacist paradigm. 

Benjamin Braddock: What do you think are the risks of the United States’ next direct conflict?

Erik Prince: The British Empire ruled the seas in the 1800s. Then the British navy got fat, woke, and lazy, and just thought what was, was always what would be. And they faced a rising continental power in Germany, with all kinds of industrial capacity and capability. Then in the Battle of Jutland in 1916, the British navy got spanked. It was not a clear victory for them at all: they took heavy casualties, and that was the beginning of the end of the British Empire and its influence. Similarly, we now have a US Navy that is very predictable and very wedded to the old ways of doing things; if they go sail a carrier battle group into close proximity of Taiwan, and the Chinese decide to send any of the tens of thousands of precision missiles they have against it, the US Navy gets spanked just like the British Navy did at the Battle of Jutland – that means thousands of sailors’ deaths, casualties of one or multiple warships, nuclear aircraft carriers, etc. It would have a devastating effect on the American psyche, and the rest of the Pacific Rim would realize that the Pax Americana that has been enjoyed for the past 70-80 years is over and that the new hegemon in that area is China. 

That’s on the conventional front. On the unconventional front, you have Iran, which is a society that puts thousands of stitches into a square inch of a rug. They’re very deliberate, very methodical. What they’re doing now with all their surrogates, whether it’s grabbing ships off Yemen, their help to Hamas, or their significant power projection in Iraq, where they have about 200,000 people in the Hashd al-Sha’bi which is effectively a Hezbollah-like militia controlled by Iran, funded by the Iraqi government, using largely American weapons. And they are good at that. They have been moving thousands and thousands of military-age males into the United States. They send them to Venezuela, then north up through Mexico, and finally across the border. They have concentrations in L.A., New York, Washington, and Miami. If it came to a full-on shooting war with Iran, those cells would be activated and you would see a Hamas-like carnage inside the United States.

Benjamin Braddock: We’re seeing a lot of new commercial and consumer technology making its way to the modern battlefield: from Hamas purchasing Israeli cell phone data to plan their October 7th attacks to $500 DJI drones being used in Ukraine to drop grenades onto sleeping Russians. I recall a conversation I had with a CIA officer back in 2015 where I brought up the consumer drones that were coming onto the market then. I asked him: “What are you guys going to do when people start strapping these things with C4 and flying them into crowds? What’s the countermeasure?” I remember thinking to myself that they must have something interesting to counter this, but he replied: “Well, we would just jam the signal!” So I explained to him how I had already jailbroken a DJI Phantom 4 and programmed it to run pre-determined routes for cinematography purposes. It wouldn’t be that difficult to turn into an autonomous weapon that couldn’t be jammed. You’d have to hard kill it. All I got back was silence. 

Erik Prince: Absolutely. This is the danger of the over-bloated bubble the Pentagon has become: thinking their Kung-fu is the best in the world and that nobody else can match it. But the enemy always gets a vote. During the Cold War, the first strategic offset against the Soviets was nuclear strike. Then it became precision weapons. Well, everybody has precision weapons now, down to a ten-year-old kid with a drone that he can put something on to fly into a target. Anything that can be located in today’s world can be targeted. So it’s exceedingly dangerous for the US to think that our trillions of dollars of investment in stuff would last a long time in a modern battle space. And that’s the thing: you don’t have to win everywhere to win a battle. You have to win at the point of inflection.

Benjamin Braddock: What do you think it would take for the Pentagon to get ahead of the curve on this and evolve tactically? Or will it take a major catastrophe happening first? 

Erik Prince: Abrupt violent surprises do tend to make people correct their ways. But remember what the Pentagon’s response to 9/11 was going to be: they said that the best that they brought to the President of the United States in the days after 9/11 were missiles, bombs, and a Ranger raid into Afghanistan in the days after. And they wanted to wait until the following April to do a mechanized invasion of Afghanistan via Pakistan. That was the best thing that the US military came up with while their headquarters was literally on fire. I mean Lincoln had to fire five heads of the Union Army to finally get somebody that would fight. So: any large organization is inherently bureaucratic, risk-averse, clueless, and it is generally breakthrough personalities – out of sheer force of will – who just fucking drive it into another direction. I mean, look at what an anomaly Patton was compared to the rest of his peers.

Benjamin Braddock: If Trump gets back into office, do you think there’s a chance he will be able to get personalities like that into the Pentagon?

Erik Prince: I think Trump never really controlled his national security apparatus for much of the administration – the Agency, State, and the rest. He never really put any kind of transformative leaders there at all. My beef with Pompeo was that he never made any real changes at the Agency or the State Department. Mattis was a four-star general in a five-star capacity as SecDef. It was steady on course, as conventional as the day is long. So, there needs to be real transformation. And it’s not just at a SecDef level, you need a Congress that is willing to change some of the laws as to how procurement is done, and to support a SecDef that would winnow out – not just fire people – but remove and consolidate billets, because we have the same amount of flag officers now that we did in WWII when we had 14 million men under arms then. Now we have 1.4 million, i.e. 10% of that. Yet we have the same amount of headquarters staff. And this is in the era of digital communications, video conferences, and the like, where you should be able to run flat and fast. Instead, we have bloat, upon bloat, upon bloat. And then you throw in the DEI, ESG, and all the other stuff that is not focusing on lethality. The military should be like a voracious attack dog that sits patiently until you tell it to go, and it goes. That’s not our military today.

Erik Prince travels by helicopter to an Xe base near the Afghan-Pakistan border (September 2009)

Erik Prince travels by helicopter to an Xe base near the Afghan-Pakistan border (September 2009)

Benjamin Braddock: If you were Secretary of Defense, what would you do on day one?

Erik Prince: I would fire every flag officer and make them submit a one-page document specifying why they should be re-hired. Simple, right? We would just ask them: what are you doing to fulfill our role to defend this country from threats? And then have them define that. There are two things an effective military commander does. One: they coordinate information. Meaning, they receive information, they send information. And two: they release energy. You move this ship from here to here… you fire that weapon… you, walk from here to here, etc. The problem is we have so much communications and so much nonsense that the right stuff doesn’t get communicated very well. And second, our cost of energy is vastly higher than it needs to be and affordably can be. Look at how stressed the industrial base is just trying to keep up with the Ukrainian artillery burn. That’s a country of 50 million people fighting on a limited front; and not only can the US not keep up, but also Spain, Britain, Germany, Czechoslovakia, all the countries that still make artillery shells. They can’t keep up. They can’t make enough casings, they can’t even get propellant.

You know, the major contribution the US made to WWII was our industrial capacity. Think about who crushed the Nazis: it was the Soviets. They lost tens of millions of men. The Americans lost 250,000 in the European theater. But what made it possible for Zhukov to go from Moscow all the way to Berlin was 600,000 trucks and tens of thousands of aircraft from the US. So, leadership starts at the top. A culling of senior officers in shockingly deep and severe cuts would be the very first place to start. The elimination of billets. The wipeout of their staff. That’s one of the things I learned operating in Iraq. We operated with about a 10-to-1 tooth-to-tail ratio. Meaning: ten teeth, one tail. The military is the inverse of that. If the military is there to, such as in Iraq, patrol, deter, fight the enemy, or train the locals, if you’re not doing that, your tail pulls you under. And that’s why our costs at Blackwater were infinitely different than what the military’s were. And so blowing away staffs, reassigning people back into combat arms, and getting rid of all these soft nonsense positions, that’s what makes the difference between a playground military and a combat military.

Benjamin Braddock: How does military contracting fit into this? Would you change anything there?

Erik Prince: Sure. I remember telling the whole Blackwater team: We never, ever, ever want to look like, or behave like, our customer. We’re here because they can’t do the job. Don’t look like them. Don’t become bloated and slow and top-heavy and so on. What does the contract say? Ok. Do far more. Don’t just meet the contract. We’re there to over-satisfy. The problem with most contracting is that the big guys like to do cost-plus, so they maximize the costs because they get to add their fee to it. 

I hate to sound like McNamara in Vietnam, but there’s a lesson to be learned from the automotive industry in sourcing. I learned this from observing my dad’s business growing up: you had the big three automakers in the ’70s, and they were unionized and sloppy, so the quality wasn’t very good, i.e. not that much great innovation was happening. Then the Japanese car companies showed up: Honda, Toyota, Nissan… And everyone said: “Nah, they will never be able to build cars here. Non-union? Are you kidding me?” Well, they were wrong. They came, they competed, and did great, both on quality and price. And look at them today, they have forced automakers to suck a little less. (Laughs)

Benjamin Braddock: That may be why the pickup truck choice of insurgents the world over is the Toyota Hilux and not Dodge Rams or Chevy Silverados…

Erik Prince: Exactly. They work. I wish Toyota was in the defense business with that mentality. Think about this: quoting something for a military job vs an automotive job. The military job pricing will typically be 30 to 40% higher because of all the inane weird restrictions that are put on it. When you think about what a car does today vs what a car did 40 years ago… I will say with respect to the Big Three in the United States or international automakers, the safety performance of what the automotive industry has done in internal combustion? Spectacular. I’m still a fan of internal combustion, and I will be the last one driving a gasoline engine. 

Benjamin Braddock: What do you think we should do about the drug cartels that are in both Mexico and the United States? I have heard more than a few people say we should invade Mexico, but this strikes me as either insanity or stupidity. 

Erik Prince: Yes, we don’t have a great track record of success at defeating those kind of insurgencies… 

I have some very definitive ideas on how to do this, which I won’t get into much detail here because, why tip your hand? But the one thing to keep in mind is this: it’s not an ideology to them. It’s a business. Cartels are very lucrative businesses that operate outside of the rule of law. So the only way you can settle those disputes is outside the rule of law. And I’m not advocating legalization, but while the supply is certainly a problem, so is the demand. If we as a society continue to condone the cocaine, the meth, the heroin, the problem continues even if we crack down much harder on the supply side. The real national security problem is, as I’m sure you know, fentanyl, which you can trace back to the Chinese Communist Party organizing massive supply of precursor chemicals, shipping them to Venezuela, then from Venezuela to Mexico where it’s fabricated into fentanyl and laced into all the other illegal drugs people are taking; and not just drug addicts, in some cases college kids, or just people doing stupid stuff, but its laced with fentanyl and it kills them. Last year alone it killed roughly 109,000 people, and it’s on track to do much more than that this year. Now, that is something that should be, and can be fixed in kinetic means very quickly if only serious people were in charge and were given the mandate to do it. And it needs to go all the way back to the source of it: back to China.

Benjamin Braddock: What would your advice be to young and young-ish men at this moment in our history? 

Erik Prince: America suffers from affluenza. Things have gotten so comfortable that people have forgotten how to ’embrace the suck’. Meaning, it’s good to get used to being uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Do something hard every day, something really hard that dogs you out after you’ve done it. Maybe something a little bit dangerous. Not stupid dangerous, but I’ve encouraged my kids to do uncomfortable things, that are hard, and not to coast. Helicopter parenting has taken so much away from young people. It’s sad to see the numbers. Not many go out into the field and really hunt anymore. Ideally, traditions like hunting should be passed along to boys by their dads, but if not, by their uncles or their cousins. My dad was a really smart man and a hard worker, but he had no outdoor skills at all. That’s because his dad died when he was thirteen during the Great Depression. He worked his ass off 40 hours a week in middle school and high school. He was managing a car dealership at age 16, so he never had time to go train in a field. But I learned a lot about the outdoor world from my cousins. My mom’s brothers were outdoorsmen as well as each of their six kids. So there are lots of ways adults can help impress and teach kids to love that kind of life. My boys used to go to an all-boys Catholic school. I used to host campouts – I should still, I just travel too much – but occasionally we host a campout on the farm in the spring or in the fall, kill a couple of deers, and leave them hanging. Then as soon as the boys are out, we butcher them together. These are kids from suburban Montgomery County and Fairfax County seeing this deer hanging there, having to cut it up, and then being given meat that they have to cook. It’s so good for kids to learn to be practical. I think we might have taken the division of labor a little too far.

Benjamin Braddock: Throughout your career, what would you say was your biggest pleasant surprise?

Erik Prince: There were a lot of pleasant surprises. But probably building and running Blackwater. It was so satisfying to give people who had Michael Jordan-level skill sets in their field of military craft the chance to do it again. I remember when we were hired to protect Paul Bremer early in Iraq, around September 2003. I flew over on a C-5 with our Little Birds. It was the only time the DOD provided us lift at all, because they wanted us there quick. It was about ten years after Black Hawk Down and we had a lot of vets from TF-160 that were in Mogadishu for Black Hawk Down. So we landed in Baghdad, and as we were getting the helicopters off and we heard gunfire in the background, all very real, the vets turned to me and said, “Mr. Prince, thank you. Thank you for giving us a chance to do what we are good at.” And I still get that to this day. Even a couple of days ago coming back through Customs the CBP guy was a former Blackwater guy and he thanked me.

Benjamin Braddock: When you have job candidates like these, how do you assess competency? 

Erik Prince: That has morphed over the years, but when I first started Blackwater I wanted a guy who understood the military, but who was really focused on hospitality. And so I went to a big, high-dollar headhunting firm and told them I needed an ex-military guy doing something in hospitality. What they found was this great resume of an ex-Marine logistics officer who was doing franchise revamping for Holiday Inn. That was a disaster because he could not relate to the customers. He was much more of an office guy than a field guy. Then, Gary Jackson was hired as President. I might be known as the founder of Blackwater, and while I had the idea and put the money up, Gary Jackson was the guy who really built the organization. He was a warrant officer who didn’t go to college, and he ran what became nearly a $1 billion company – and he ran it well, because he could keep his ego in check and got comfortable hiring super-confident people, even more than him in certain areas. So I look for brave people, people that have good basic competencies in specific areas and that can be depended on. I steer away from hiring from Ivy League schools at this point. I’m just not very impressed with the product they’re offering. I think back to when the founding fathers were around, the entrance exam for Harvard was to translate the Book of John from Greek into Latin. Compare that with today.

Benjamin Braddock: I could see that. One last question: what book do you like to gift the most to people? 

Erik Prince: Two books. One is The Myth of Capitalism, which resonates the most with me when it comes to what is wrong with the American economy. It points back to problems like allowing overconsolidation in the industries and the lack of competitiveness. For instance, how CEOs’ pay in 1972 was 30 to 1, high man to low man. Now it’s 360 to 1. But the CEOs haven’t gotten twelve times better. So that nonsense must be fixed. And it either gets fixed with the rule of law or it’s the French Revolution all over, with all the craziness that comes along with that. 

The other book though that really gets me fired up is To Dare and to Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations, from Achilles to Al Qaeda by Derek Leebaert. A lot of people, a lot of patriots are really hopeless at the state of things in America. They feel like it’s impossible for us to fight this blob towards tyranny. And so I tell them, read that book and see what a few picked men throughout history have done to change the course of major battles, of civilizations, etc. I think ultimately, it is possible to turn things around.

This interview is contained in our fourth print edition “Counterrevolution: The Coming Storms“.

Benjamin Braddock is an American writer and IM—1776’s Commissioning Editor. He can be followed @GraduatedBen.

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