Mike the Mad Biologist

In case you missed it, there’s a fascinating, albeit horrifying, article about the intersection of the business interests of retired military officers with their depiction in the mainstream media as unbiased commentators who are putting country first. Here’s a sample:

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus. Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help — “He’s got the heart of a lion” — or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment.

He had made similar arguments before he was hired by Defense Solutions, but this time he went further. In his testimony to Congress, General McCaffrey criticized a Pentagon plan to supply Iraq with several hundred armored vehicles made in the United States by a competitor of Defense Solutions. He called the plan “not in the right ballpark” and urged Congress to instead equip Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles.

“We’ve got Iraqi army battalions driving around in Toyota trucks,” he said, echoing an argument made to General Petraeus in the Defense Solutions briefing packet.

Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.

Since this was published in the Sunday NY Times, I think it’s safe to say that McCaffrey’s reputation took a hit. While Matt Yglesias calls out media institutions on this, I think Digby gets to the heart of the implications of this:

That subject is so outside the mainstream to even question this stuff that you sound like a kook even bringing it up. But the fact is that one of the fundamental reasons we have deep intractable economic problems is this massive government welfare program we call the defense industry. It does create jobs. But it produces destruction and warps this country’s priorities to the point where they are incoherent. And there’s zero discussion anywhere about changing that.

I would put it more simply: this is war profiteering. What makes it all the more galling is that without a lot of soldiers risking their lives, McCaffrey would have not reached the rank he did to able to cash in like this. If he wants to work for a defense contractor, that’s fine. But when he then simultaneously uses his record of public service–which is admirable–as nothing more than an ad pitch, that’s wrong.

You shouldn’t be a statesman and a salesman.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott
    December 3, 2008

    Aren’t there some laws about registering as a lobbyist before making a pitch like this to Congress?
    I don’t have a problem with former generals making sales pitches like this, even to their former compatriots. The problem I see is the transparency issue. No one complains about Tiger Woods doing adds for Nike, because everyone knows he’s getting paid for it. With the right information about the messenger, you can know how much salt to add to the message.

  2. #2 Dunc
    December 4, 2008

    Lets not overlook the fact that NBC is a subsidiary of GE – one the the biggest arms manufacturers in the world. They’re just doing PR for their parent company.

    As for this whole business of war profiteering… I’m shocked, shocked to find that war profiteering is going on here!

    Seriously, does America actually have any other profitable industries left? Perhaps that’s the reason you’ve been at war with somebody, somewhere, more-or-less continuously for over a century?