The author is an anonymous active-duty Air Force Technical Sergeant and a member of March Forward!
Amid a storm of controversy stoked by a Rolling Stone interview last June, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was fired as top commander of U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan, allegedly for making disparaging remarks about top White House officials.
After such a highly publicized ouster, one might be led to think the future of McChrystal’s career would be in question. Not so. The "disgraced" former general has recently been hired by Yale University. He has also signed on with a Washington-based agency to set up speaking engagements. The fee per appearance: up to $60,000, plus travel and lodging for three. (CNN, Aug. 17)
While it may seem outrageous that a military commander fired in such a public and controversial manner would be so quickly "rehabilitated," it is simply par for the course in the day-to-day phenomena commonly known as Washington’s revolving door from public to private offices.
Countless numbers of former high-ranking military and civilian Pentagon officials now hold incredibly lucrative positions in a wide array of careers, from defense contracting to academia.
Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, where McChrystal will begin teaching this fall, was created last year with a $50 million gift from wealthy "philanthropists" John and Susan Jackson. John Jackson’s career path is emblematic of the typical Washington revolving door pattern.
A Yale graduate himself, Jackson served as an officer in the Marine Corps before moving on to the pharmaceutical industry where he held executive positions at both Merck & Co. and the Celgene Corp. before retiring in 2006. (Associated Press, April 3, 2009)
The revolving door spins on
According to a 2009 Financial Times report, the top ten companies receiving Pentagon contracts last year were: 1) Lockheed Martin; 2) Boeing; 3) Northrop Grumman; 4) General Dynamics; 5) Raytheon; 6) United Technologies; 7) L3 Communications; 8) BAE Systems; 9) Oshkosh; and 10) KBR.
Each so-called "defense" contractor raked in multibillions after shelling out millions in lobbying fees to bribe willing members of Congress.
Lockheed Martin was the biggest recipient, raking in $31.3 billion in tax payer’s dollars after investing $13.5 million in lobbying expenses. Sitting among its board of directors is former Undersecretary of Defense E. C. "Pete" Aldridge, Jr.
Considering the enormously lucrative rewards for serving the interests of the biggest defense contractors, it should come as no surprise that the list of retired Pentagon officials working for them goes on, and on, and on, and on. Here are a few examples:
Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton
"The day I left the military," said retired Army Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton, "my phone started to ring off the hook."
According to the New York Times, while still serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top military adviser to President Bush, Shelton met with his future predecessor, Gen. Richard B. Myers and then Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Michael E. Ryan.
Rather than discussing military strategy, the trio of powerful top generals discussed "how to get seats on corporate boards, what kinds of pay packages to ask for, how to approach future employers and how to gain perks, stock options and lucrative consulting contracts." (New York Times, June 19, 2005)
Since retirement, Shelton has worked for several major defense contractors, including Northrop Grumman, Protective Products of America, Anteon International (now known as General Dynamics Information Technology) and M.I.C. Industries. The former Anteon’s list of board members also includes former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and Paul G. Kaminski, a former Pentagon acquisitions official.
In addition to Shelton’s defense contracting exploits, he also has a lucrative arrangement with Anheuser-Busch, including a six-figure salary and thousands of shares of stock.
Gen. Richard B. Myers
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush during the criminal invasion of Iraq and has sat on the boards of Northrop Grumman and United Technologies. Last year the two companies took home $16.1 billion and $7.1 billion in Pentagon contracts respectively.
Other retired top brass who have worked for Northrop Grumman include Admiral Charles Larson, Army Lt. Gen. Leonard D. Holder Jr., Air Force Maj. Gen. Timothy J. McMahon and Army Lt. Gen. George Crocker.
In addition to his work for defense contractors, Myers also serves as Foundation Professor of Military History at Kansas State University and holds the Colin Powell Chair for National Security, Leadership, Character and Ethics at the National Defense University.
Gen. Anthony Charles Zinni
Marine Gen. Anthony Charles Zinni has also worked for multiple defense contractors, including M.I.C. Industries, BAE Systems, DynCorp and Veritas Capital. He also sits on the board of the MHI Hospitality Corporation, which operates Hilton and Holiday Inn hotels.
''In every case they found me,'' said Zinni of his many defense contracting employers. (New York Times, June 19, 2005)
Veritas Capital is the parent company of defense giant Dyncorp, and has received multibillions in Pentagon contracts in recent years. Other retired top brass on the board of Veritas include Adm. Leighton Smith Jr., Adm. Joseph Prueher, Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Air Force Gen. Richard Hawley.
Gen. James L. Jones
Gen. James L. Jones Jr. is a former Marine Corps Commandant, the highest-ranking official in the Marines. He is currently President Obama’s national security adviser and serves on defense giant Boeing's board of directors. In 2009 the company received $20.9 billion in Pentagon contracts after shelling out $16.9 million in lobbying fees.
Air Force Gen. Charles "Tony" Robertson and Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have also worked for Boeing. Shalikashvili has also worked for defense giants L-3 Communications and United Defense Industries.
Civilian leaders at the Pentagon are also guilty of looting the public treasury to bolster their personal fortunes. The current deputy secretary of defense, William Lynn, began his career in government under Sen. Ted Kennedy before being appointed to one of the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense positions.
Lynn later left the public sector to become a lobbyist for Raytheon, the $25 billion-a-year defense contractor that makes the Army's Patriot missile system and the Navy's Tomahawk missile. While serving in that position Lynn raked in millions. Last year his personal wealth was estimated at upwards of $5 million. (CNN, Feb. 23)
President Obama appointed Lynn as deputy secretary of defense despite repeated promises on the campaign trail to bar lobbyists from his administration.
"I have done more to take on lobbyists than any other candidate in this race—and I've won," Obama said in 2008. "I don't take a dime of their money, and when I am president, they won't find a job in my White House." (CNN, Feb. 23)
Since Lynn allegedly "stopped" working for Raytheon to become deputy secretary of defense, the company’s sales have not surprisingly climbed an additional 7 percent.
Other retired Pentagon officials who have worked for Raytheon include Army Lt. Gen. James C. Riley and Adm. Vernon E. Clark.
Luxury and privilege for officers while enlisted struggle to get by
While Gen. Stanley McChrystal returns home to a life of luxury and privilege with Afghan blood on his hands, enlisted service members return home to increasingly dismal conditions, including rising rates of unemployment, homelessness, drug abuse and incarceration.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 107,000 victims of homelessness are veterans—about one third of the entire adult homeless population. An additional 1.5 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness. Most suffer from mental illnesses, such as PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or some form of drug abuse, and more often than not, combinations of all three.
This spring the Labor Department reported that the official unemployment rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between the ages of 18 to 24 reached 21.1 percent in 2009, a staggeringly high rate compared to the official unemployment rate of 9.6 percent.
The shocking inequalities between officer and enlisted corps are systematic features of the U.S. military, not simply a few highlighted and exceptional cases.
Cashing in while we die
All of this poses a serious question for enlisted members of the U.S. military: Why should these generals decide our fate? It is obvious that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and U.S. foreign policy as a whole—is driven by the need of banks, oil giants, Wall Street corporations and defense contractors to make super-profits by expanding into new markets. This does not just occur due to outside pressure on the Pentagon from the powers of big capital and their loyal servants in Washington. Wall Street’s representatives are intertwined into our own Chain of Command.
Are we supposed to blindly trust the orders to invade and occupy other lands by the exact same people who stand to gain millions by making sure those wars happen? Are we expected to believe that their military decisions—like the decision to flood tens of thousands of more troops into the “un-winnable” war in Afghanistan—are motivated by anything other than their lucrative careers?
Think of how absurd it would be if the CEO of Halliburton, or a member of Chevron’s corporate board, ordered us to invade an oil-rich nation. None of us would risk life and limb securing new profits for some Wall Street fat cat in a suit. So, they find representatives in uniform to order us into battle instead. These people are one in the same. We have the right to refuse a Pentagon general’s orders to kill and be killed for profits just as we would if they came from a Wall Street business tycoon.
It is not simply individual greed that makes this the case; it’s the way that the system is set up. The top military brass must play this role in a system where every institution is controlled by the super-rich, and aimed at nothing but making more profits.
Our commanders dine with multi-millionaires, toasting champagne to new weapons contracts, while we die in the trenches in two senseless wars.
This is why March Forward! demands that the existing officer corps be dismantled immediately.
It makes far more sense for enlisted service members to have an officer corps that consists of the competent, respected enlisted service members that are democratically elected by the troops they command—not some privileged hack who will later get a new job by pleasing Wall Street.
Gen. McChrystal and Washington's revolving door
The author is an anonymous active-duty Air Force Technical Sergeant and a member of March Forward!