Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Latest Dereliction of Duty: TV News Military Analysts and the Military Industrial Complex that Feeds Them

I'm glad to see that the media has finally done its job and uncovered the completely unsurprising links between the retired generals who serve as supposedly-independent Military Analysts on TV news and the Pentagon and Military Contractors whose talking points they invariably echo. It's one thing to know that there's no way these guys were picked because of their complete independence from the Pentagon and its big business contractors. It's another to have evidence that it goes so much further than that. It's a must-read. See Gadfly's post below for a good general overview.

A minor point I think deserves to be rebutted is this one from Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman:

It was, Mr. Whitman added, "a bit incredible" to think retired military officers could be "wound up" and turned into "puppets of the Defense Department."

If you believe this, you don't know the military very well. These guys all retired at the rank of Colonel or higher, and if there's anything a soldier could tell you about the guys at the top of the pyramid, it's that they seem to have no idea what goes on at the bottom of it. The Colonels and Generals I've seen in Iraq rarely leave their offices, except to take other Generals and Colonels on tours in their helicopters. They are briefed more than once a day on operations, but those briefings are often a bit... sanitized to protect their subordinates. They simply don't have the feel that the guys outside the wire have for what's going on. Given the lack of recently retired Buck Sergeant hired to be a Military Analyst on MSNBC, this makes for a somewhat skewed view of the battlefield.

But more tragically, there's a system in place that almost ensures that by the time you reach the rank of General, you've spent so much time with your nose up the ass of the people who made it before you that it's the only way you know how to operate. You see, there aren't all that many openings for Generals in the military, so they can be choosy in who they pick to wear those stars. One of the main criteria for making it that far is having a spotless or near-spotless OER (Officer's Evaluation Report). To get a good OER, you basically have to be competent in your position and not piss off your commander.

And what might piss off a commander? Well, considering that he's got an OER of his own to look after, anything that might wreck his next promotion is pretty high on that list. All this basically means that the last thing you want to do as a junior officer looking up at the stars is think outside the box, take risks, put yourself on the line, or any of those other things that businesses were hiring consultants to tell them to do 10 years ago. The people who make General tend to be above average in intelligence, but risk-averse, thanks to a system that encourages lockstep thinking and looks askance at anything that bucks tradition.

So no, Mr. Whitman, it's not "a bit incredible" that retired Generals are puppets of the system. That's how they got there in the first place. And thanks to the extremely lucrative after-market in the defense contracting and lobbying business, these retired Generals know they've got to dance with the one that brung 'em. The quote from retired Colonel John C. Garrett in an email to the Pentagon shows just how closely tied these guys are to the system that created them. Preparing to go on FOX News to talk about the (then-upcoming) surge, he stated:

"Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay."

Almost as painful as the system that reduces America's military leaders into glad-handing yes-men is the pathetic cravenness of a figure such as Garrett, whose pitiful servility to the Administration and the Pentagon is so clearly expressed in this quote. He's not a man, he's a robot, sent out to do the bidding of his masters. Instead of leading, he's following, like a Private in Basic Training. Instead of getting the opinion of a Pattonesque leader, a man of action, a thick-skinned, no-nonsense man's man that the viewers imagine they'll get when the magic words "Retired General" flash across the screen, they get this mincing courtier saying nothing that we hadn't already heard from Ari Fleischer or Sean Hannity. We want Chesty Puller, but we get Willy Loman.

Cross-posted at Decline and Fall.