Congress Should Sabotage Our Corrupt Generals’ Golden Parachutes
During the Biden administration’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal, 13 servicemen lost their lives at the Kabul airport.
At a quiet local home away from the chaos at the airport, a U.S. drone struck down an entire innocent Afghan family in what the Pentagon called a “mistake.”
Thousands of Americans and longtime Afghan friends who’d been promised a safe evacuation were abruptly left stranded and at the mercy of the Taliban. We may not know for some time how many of these abandoned people the Taliban has systematically murdered, tortured, or raped.
A Few Good Men … in the Senate
We owe a debt of gratitude to the public servants of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees who were willing to demand answers from America’s generals at this week’s hearings. For many of us, it was especially gratifying to hear Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), and others openly demand resignations.
But throughout the hearings, I couldn’t shake the feeling that men like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and head of the U.S. Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie are going to get off easy.
It wasn’t just the smug look on their faces. Over the years, I’ve spoken with enough military, intelligence, and political insiders to learn an ugly truth about men like Milley, Austin, and McKenzie: Their highest ambition is not to serve others, to win wars, or to secure America’s future.
Instead, what they want is as simple as it is petty: to use America’s inherited respect for military service to pamper themselves.
Their Golden Parachutes
This has already been happening under our noses for years. Military officials climb the ranks, land very public positions in presidential administrations, and then carefully curate an image for themselves. Why? Because if they play their cards right, they can become playboy princes among America’s ruling class.
After retirement or resignation, their pensions alone are incredible, ranging from about $170,000 to almost a quarter-million dollars a year — with great medical care on top of that.
When they leave their posts, they don’t have to work another day. Oh, they’ll probably accept positions on any number of the boards of non-profit and contracting firms, usually at $100,000 a pop. In those positions, they field a few phone calls and attend conferences at lavish hotels. And they get another $70,000 for each speaking engagement.
Churning Out Books and Pontificating for Cash
For a glimpse of what the lives of Austin, Milley, or McKenzie might look like if Republicans “win” and force them to retire, take Gen. Stanley McChrystal. His book Team of Teams used his time as a general overseeing American troops in Afghanistan to illustrate “leadership principles” for corporate boardroom meetings. It was a big seller, and he used the publicity to start a consulting practice and rake in more cash.
In 2013, a university invited McChrystal to speak at a conference on leadership and team building. His team turned down their $62,000 fee and asked for $80,000. So McChrystal could charter a private jet to the event.
You can read more about McChrystal and other military leaders in the recently-published Washington Post report “Corporate boards, consulting, speaking fees: How U.S. generals thrived after Afghanistan.” McChrystal is not an exceptional case.
The Corrupt General Decoder Ring
It’s tempting to celebrate the calls for resignations, but that’s not a form of accountability that intimidates these men. They would have no qualms about taking what they got from us taxpayers (training and inside knowledge) and turning it into gold.
That fact serves as the decoder ring Congress should take to future hearings. In light of it, everything the corrupt brass says finally makes sense. When McKenzie speaks of “getting it right” during questions about budget, he doesn’t mean what you or I would mean. To us, “getting it right” evokes concepts of honor, moral duty, and responsibility. To them? It means striking the right chord with the elite circles they want to mingle with after retirement.
While our Afghanistan occupation petered out to a clumsy, murderous, and shameful end, Milley was sitting down with journalists to help them paint a picture of him as an exciting figure in the soap opera narratives of America’s elite.
Lubricating Elite Opinion
Former President Trump and his supporters are attempting a “Nazi” coup, he told Washington Post reporters. But the Nazis are “not going to f***ing succeed” on Milley’s watch, he told them. “You can’t do this without the military. … We’re the guys with the guns.”
Milley’s preoccupation with melodramatic, crass little book projects took precedence over the human catastrophe he oversaw in Afghanistan for the same reason his interest in trendy topics like “white rage” and “equity” tend to come to the fore during press conferences and congressional hearings. Because these are the preoccupations of Washington’s cultural powerbrokers.
Secretary Austin and General McKenzie are no better. For the past year, well-placed military brass have been spreading smears about “extremist” evangelical Christian and Catholic troops fomenting hatred in the ranks. A portion of this week’s hearings was taken up by a discussion about minority “representation” in the military.
Okay. 74 percent of those who died in Iraq were middle class white males. 76 percent of those killed in Afghanistan were white males. White males are only 35 percent of our population, and yes, they disproportionately serve and die in war. But when their generals in D.C. talk about “representation,” they aren’t talking about representation in military deaths.
Flattering Our Real Rulers, the Oligarchs
By all accounts, soldiers of every race aren’t seeing any benefit from this kind of talk. Because it’s not for their benefit; it’s a political campaign by men like McKenzie and Milley, to ingratiate themselves with the press, with Silicon Valley, and with academia.
It’s time for Congress to recognize this as the scandal that it is. The recent rhetoric of military leaders isn’t innocuous. It’s what they do instead of ensuring that our drones don’t kill innocent civilians, that our adversaries don’t lay hold of billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment, and that we don’t leave Americans behind in war zones.
What’s more, their self-serving “woke” rhetoric has now begun to take the form of policy priorities.
After the fall of Afghanistan, Lt. Colonel Stuart Scheller who called for accountability on the part of military leadership was arrested. Lance Cpl. Hunter Clark, the soldier who rescued a baby at the Kabul airport during the withdrawal, is now under investigation after attending a Trump rally.
These actions aren’t a strategy designed to secure America’s future and look out for our troops. It’s a media campaign. And all so McKenzie, Austin, and Milley can get their dream retirement — a powder-puff existence with vacation properties, soft pajamas, and gourmet foods.
Resignations will have no effect on that ambition. In fact, they may be even more likely to achieve it if all Congress manages to do in the way of ensuring “accountability” is force them to retire. While no patriotic American feels comfortable facing that fact, I think it’s high time that we do — starting with the corrupt officials who shamed our country during the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Sabotage Their Parachutes
I would call on Congress to pass swift legislation instituting a new requirement for military leaders after they retire or resign: Impose a cooling-off period of ten years. Ensure that military generals can no longer use their positions to campaign for themselves, lining their pockets and puffing up their retirement plans.
Given the conviction they showed during this week’s hearings, perhaps Sen. Josh Hawley and Rep. Michael Waltz could work together to introduce the new legislation.
I know they care about America’s future. And judging from the shameful way our leaders handled Afghanistan, America’s future might depend on reining them in by law.