Four-Star Generals Are the One Percent

Say you are an important manager in a company, and you live next door to one of the people who answer to you. Would it make sense if you had to use a microwave to fix meals while your subordinate was able to have a personal chef? Add to this scenario that you discovered this underling didn’t have to hire a gardener because he was permitted to use the employees under his division to come to his home and do his gardening for him. So even though you are his boss, you have to use you would have to budget for a groundskeeper from your own salary, while the one who answers to you gets to use company resources.

Change the “company” to the United States Federal Government, and that is exactly the situation we have with our generals and those to whom they are supposed to be held accountable. This was Robert Gate’s experience when he became Secretary of Defense and moved next door to General Mike Mullen the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reportedly, Gates began joking that he stopped bagging leaves and instead blew them into Mullen’s yard because he knew Mullen would have soldiers bag them. Behind that joke lies an observation on the weirdness of American Generals: They get to live the lifestyles of the rich and famous even compared to the bureaucrats who are supposed to be overseeing them.

“Of the many facts that have come to light in the scandal involving former CIA director David H. Petraeus, among the most curious was that during his days as a four-star general, he was once escorted by 28 police motorcycles as he traveled from his Central Command headquarters in Tampa to socialite Jill Kelley’s mansion. Although most of his trips did not involve a presidential-size convoy, the scandal has prompted new scrutiny of the imperial trappings that come with a senior general’s lifestyle.”

Back during the Cold War, conservatives wanted to defend a political-economy based on free markets against Communism. In that world, being open to socialism and being soft on opposition to international Communism seemed to go together. Even though the Cold War is over, somehow conservatives still see criticism of the military as non-conservative. But this makes no sense of the actual conservative tradition. The founding fathers saw standing armies as a threat to American liberty.

James Madison: “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.”

Eldridge Gerry, defending the Second Amendment: “What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty.”

Of course, in our own day, when we fund our military by debt through a central bank, we might look to Thomas Jefferson who will tell us banks are worse but both are horrible: “I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

Amid all the talk of the deficit and debt, how can these lavish lifestyles not get any scrutiny by Conservatives? I think is because Conservatives don’t want to be, or don’t want to be perceived as “soft on defense.” But how do we know that pampered Generals are actually good for defense.

Take the example of Petraeus. As Dianna West has written, Petraeus pushed “Counter Insurgency” or COIN doctrine.

“The basis of COIN is ‘population protection; – Iraqi populations, Afghan populations – over ‘force protection.’ Or, as lead author David Petraeus wrote in the 2007 Counterinsurgency Field Manual: ‘Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force.’ (‘COIN force’ families must have loved that.) Further, the Petraeus COIN manual tells us: ‘The more successful the counterinsurgency is, the less force can be used and the more risk can be accepted.’ ‘Less force’ and ‘more risk’ translate into highly restrictive rules of engagement.”

So while Petraeus got to live the life of “the one percent,” the troops on the ground got different treatment: a huge increase in amputations and groin injuries. West points out that soldiers are put on foot in instead of vehicles, resulting in horrible vulnerabilities. The army medics have even coined a new phrase, “dismounted complex blast injury” forcing them to develop “aggressive pain management at the POI (point of injury)” and “phallic reconstruction surgery.” And Petraeus got a motorcade?

Royally-rich generals are not consistent with limited government, fiscal sanity, or free markets. Leaving real defense aside for a moment, they haven’t made us more secure or more victorious anywhere in the world.

In short, they are not conservative.