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Generals Who Don’t Just Fade Away: The Newest in Self-Dealing Maneuvers

Gen. Douglas MacArthur was one of the major generals of World War II and Korea, but he will also always be known as one of the generals who was fired by President Truman for going against orders and publicly criticizing the commander in chief. As he left military service, he is remembered for this quote: “The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that, ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade away.'”

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Gen. Douglas MacArthur was one of the major generals of World War II and Korea, but he will also always be known as one of the generals who was fired by President Truman for going against orders and publicly criticizing the commander in chief. As he left military service, he is remembered for this quote: “The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that, ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade away.'”

Many thought that MacArthur would run for president, but instead, as it was the tradition after World War II, he became chairman of a civilian company, Remington Rand, which made business machines – rather than working for a major defense contractor. (Remington Rand did make pistols during World War II, before MacArthur became the chairman.)

As I mentioned in an earlier Solutions column, it was a tradition for ex-generals to enter the civilian business world. It was even considered unseemly for a retired general to go work for a military company after World War II, but unfortunately, a large percentage of current retiring generals go to work for defense companies, giving “advice” and claiming not to lobby. They rarely ever register as lobbyists, using the same vague and incredible terms to describe their work with defense companies, as Newt Gingrich did when he proclaimed that he was not a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, but a “historian.”

There is another general who was fired by a president who has now not only maneuvered a lucrative post-military career, but, as part of a new trend with retiring generals, has started his own consulting company while also using a cover to lobby without having to register as a lobbyist. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander for Afghanistan until last year, was, notoriously, removed from his post by President Obama for a series of egotistical and reckless actions that included leaking documents to the press that boosted a strategy not favored by the White House, covering up wrongdoing, including the friendly-fire death of NFL player and soldier Pat Tillman, and, finally, allowing his staff and himself to indulge in trashing the president and the vice president to a Rolling Stone reporter, Michael Hastings, while holding the highest command in Afghanistan.

After the article appeared, President Obama brought McChrystal back from Afghanistan and promptly relieved him from duty. In Hastings’ book, The Operators, he discussed how surprised the military was that Obama had, in abrupt Truman fashion, relieved this general who had spent his career promoting himself. McChrystal and his aides had been telling Hastings that Obama was a weak leader and a wimp (calling him just an orator, not a leader). They got caught up in their arrogance and met the same fate as General MacArthur.

But McChrystal, being a modern general, didn’t just fade away. After licking his wounds for a year teaching at Yale University, he has followed a trend of not going to work for a specific defense contractor, but instead, has started his own consulting group for many companies to give advice – but claims not to lobby and has not registered as a lobbyist. Even though generals have a very generous pension and perks, he is also making money from being on the board of directors of several companies and makes about $60,000 for each motivational speech he gives.

He also brought along former military men who worked for him into his new McChrystal Group, including Dave Silverman, a former Navy Seal who was on of his top aides in Afghanistan and was one of the staff that was the most derogatory about the president, and Sgt. Maj. Mike Hall, who had worked with McChrystal during a good portion of his career. Based on their web site’s bragging about their skill sets, which emphasizes that they have the military discipline and methods to make companies work, they show no shame or discipline, and not only about what they did and said about the commander in chief. Even though our troops have worked hard and creatively in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the leadership of several of the top generals, including McChrystal, has been ineffective and chaotic. Many of these top commanders spent more time with military and civilian public relations staff to make them darlings of the news media and burnish their “brand” to be promoted to the next level.

McChrystal doesn’t list his clients on the McChrystal Group web site, but he has developed a new leadership paradigm called “CrossLead.” According to their web site, CrossLead: “is a transformational leadership system that involves communication processes, knowledge and time management systems, and technological innovations. It facilitates an organization’s ability to manage information and risk, maximize operational efficiencies, and solve problems through precise execution.”

The more I read the rhetoric on CrossLead, the more I felt like I was having a flashback to the gobbledygook briefings and hearings that the top military leadership rolls out to cover up waste, fraud and ineffective execution of the DoD budget and the mismanagement of these wars. I have heard generals deploy this drivel to explain the most messed up weapon systems, or leadership and management failures in these two wars; I find it disturbing, yet amusing.

“We are working the problem on a time multiplex basis” is one of my favorites among the phrases that are trotted out during Congressional hearings. This general, who made bad judgments in his post and spent much of his time covering the Army’s mistakes while burnishing his personal brand, thinks that he can give leadership tips to top businesses. This faux leadership rhetoric in the military is followed worshipfully by the naive. Soldiers who see the truth of how the Pentagon is run laugh at it while they their cynicism about the top military brass deepens.

At least one civilian company is buying this sap. Tim Armstrong, the CEO of the troubled AOL company, sent a memorandum to his staff about how he wants to incorporate McChrystal’s “leadership” tips into saving his company. The memo was published in The Washington Post, where blogger Erik Wemple made the obvious snarky comments about the worshipful tones in which Armstrong said much McChrystal and his Navy Seals know about running a company. Special Operations in the military can do a very well executed job when they stick to what they know, but taking out Bin Laden is a very different type of leadership than propping up a media company.

Meanwhile, McChrystal claims to have kept himself above the messy and dirty business of lobbying. However, less than a year after he started his group, he has found a poor excuse of a fig leaf to cover his tracks while still cashing in on lucrative lobbying. His group is now affiliating with Shockey Scofield Solutions, a lobby group that skirts the lobby laws and is very well connected on Capitol Hill. The McChrystal Group claims to be a “strategic partner” with the Solutions lobby group, and Shockey Scofield is leasing space in McChrystal’s Alexandria, Virginia, office. So, while McChrystal is pretending to be just a great military leader who wants to pass on his great skills to help the rest of American business, he now has a forceful lobby group, with many military defense contractors as clients, to bring in income as he and this new group use their connections and campaign contributions in the Congress to protect and send lucrative DoD contracts to their clients.

And the principals of Shockey Scofield, Jeff Shockey and John Scofield are well connected former Congressional staffers who have carefully cultivated power over the course of their careers, and they are poster boys for how to make great money by moving freely through the revolving door many times over. Even with the loose lobbying rules, Shockey raised some eyebrows with his tactics to make money even when he returned to his sparse, $160,000 a year Congressional salary. From The Huffington Post:

Shockey’s many trips through the revolving door have led to his fair share of uncomfortable attention. He left the spending panel in 1999 to join Copeland Lowery and was making a killing within a few years thanks to his connection to [former House Appropriations Committee chairman Jerry] Lewis. Former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.) was close friends with Lewis.

In 2005, Schockey returned to the committee to work for Lewis again. To offset his massive pay cut, Copeland Lowery cut him a $2 million check before he went back into public service. Shockey was subsequently caught up in a federal investigation into the relationship between his bosses, Lewis and Lowery, resulting in subpoenas for his former clients.

Now he’s Stanley McChrystal’s man in Washington.

I guess McChrystal realizes that in the eyes of most of the public, he can have a business consulting group and keep his reputation as a tough and organized person and an effective warrior, while he lets his strategic partners cover his foray into lobbying, where the true money is. He is also able to stay out of the political fray of making campaign donations, and does not show up on the campaign reporting sites, while his strategic partners are busily buying access on Capitol Hill with generous gifts to campaign coffers.

Meanwhile, even though the press has covered some of his actions and the good-government groups protest the type of self-dealing that he is using in his lucrative post-military retirement, the majority of people inside the Washington Beltway simply shake their heads or yawn and accept business as usual. Once again, until the public forces the Congress and the president to do something bold and drastic and reform all this self-dealing, this widely accepted crony capitalism and self-dealing with government money will continue.

I am hoping that most nonmilitary companies will not fall for McChrystal’s “transformative” leadership rhetoric, especially from a man who lost his job due to bad judgment, coverups, and his own – and his staff’s – big mouths. Mark Thompson, the defense reporter for Time Magazine for many years and a friend of mine, wrote about how silly it was to fall for McChrystal’s gung-ho leadership rhetoric in light of his firing by the president. From Thompson’s Battleland Blog from last June:

Although McChrystal’s fall from grace goes unmentioned on his website, it seems he took some of its lessons to heart. Indeed, those participating in the Yale [McChrystal Group] program, according to the passages in italics below, will achieve:
Dramatically improved shared consciousness and purpose (“Hey sir – does it make any sense to have this reporter hanging around? He’s taking a lot of notes.”)
Faster and more inclusive decision-making (“We should probably discuss the wisdom of letting the reporter shadow us, especially when we’re getting tipsy in Paris.”)
Better data and knowledge management (“Did you say he worked for Rolling Stone? Is that more like Aviation Week or Armed Forces Journal?”)
Rapid dissemination of best and worst practices (“Keep your mouth shut around reporters until the ground rules are nailed down.”)
Optimized utilization of technology (“Take away his pen.”)
Increased organizational transparency to enable accountability in execution (“Mr. President, I hereby submit my resignation.”)

None of this passes the laugh test, but there is no one laughing at all the self-dealing in Washington, especially with military contractors and retired military officers.

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