Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Retrospective: Colin Powell changes his tune.

Retirement Syndrome
by James Carroll

Four years ago today, then Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before the UN Security Council on the absolute necessity of going to war against Saddam Hussein. What followed is history. That testimony will define the bleak legacy of Colin Powell, but lately he has marked his distance from the war that his testimony both justified and enabled. In December, he contradicted administration claims to declare that the United States is "losing" the war in Iraq, and last month he contradicted the Bush "surge" strategy by calling for a "drawdown" of forces. Clearly, the former secretary of state is a man in the grip of regret.

Powell's example calls to mind the long American tradition of powerful figures who, while in office, put in place structures of unbridled violence, only, upon leaving office, to warn of them. In describing this, the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton adapts the familiar phrase "retirement syndrome," usually defined as stresses associated with the cessation of work, to apply to this social phenomenon -- the criticism of policy by the creators of policy after they no longer have responsibility for it. Perhaps the most famous instance of this form of retirement syndrome is Dwight D. Eisenhower's, in the stirring warning he issued in his 1961 farewell address. He decried the "military-industrial complex" as if he had not himself just spent eight years presiding over its construction.

The most poignant exemplar of retirement syndrome is Robert McNamara, who has spent the last quarter century as a critic of conventional American attitudes toward war in general, and of the strategic doctrines of the nuclear age in particular. He had, of course, given masterful expression to both, as the secretary of defense responsible for Vietnam and "Mutual Assured Destruction."

After the Cold War, when the United States showed every intention of maintaining its nuclear arsenal at Cold War levels, numerous senior military figures who had had responsibility for that arsenal, upon leaving uniform, became strident nuclear objectors. Chief among those was General George Lee Butler , former commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command, who said of nuclear weapons after he retired, "Such weapons have no place among us. There is no security to be found in nuclear weapons. It's a fool's game." Similarly, with Paul Nitze , the nuclear official for all seasons. Having pushed nukes on every US president from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, he denounced the enterprise in a 1999 op-ed piece for The New York Times; "The fact is, I see no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons."

Such things still happen. The grand slam of retirement syndrome occurred last month. In a Jan. 4 op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Schultz , and former secretary of defense William J. Perry , together with former senator Sam Nunn , recalled fondly that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev had almost agreed to the elimination of nuclear weapons. The four former US officials proposed a "rekindling" of the Reagan-Gorbachev abolitionist vision. Kissinger, with his historic 1957 article "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy," laid the intellectual justification for nukes that still makes nations want them. The very possession of the weapon, not its use, is a source of transcendent power. That thinking remains the nub of the problem Kissinger now wants to undo.

Schultz was at Reagan's elbow in Reykjavik when the president made his Strategic Defense Initiative the deal-breaker with Gorbachev. Their hoped-for agreement to abolish all nuclear weapons hung in the balance. Reagan had a moment of self doubt, and slipped a note to Shultz with the question, "Am I wrong?" Schultz, according to his own memoir, whispered, "No, you are right." Right to scuttle the dream of a nuclear free world. Even Nunn agreed then that the near deal on nukes would have been an "embarrassing example of American ineptitude." Perry, for his part, presided over the Pentagon's 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, which ordered the continuance of the anti-Soviet nuclear arsenal as a "hedge" against unnamed future threats from Russia. The threats never came, but the nukes remained.

It is good news that officials who put terrible structures of thought and power in place want later to undo them. How much better it would be, though, if such wisdom came to them when they could act upon it. Colin Powell's authority today instructs the critics of the war. Too bad that authority did not prevent it.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe. His most recent book is "Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War."


At 7:48 PM, Blogger RoseCovered Glasses said...

Your post has some excellent points. Here's some additional data:

The U.S. Department of Defense, headquartered in the Pentagon, is one of the most massive organizations on the planet, with net annual operating costs of $635 billion, assets worth $1.3 trillion, liabilities of $1.9 trillion and more that 2.9 million military and civilian personnel as of fiscal year 2005.

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

It is difficult to convey the complexity of the way DOD works to someone who has not experienced it. This is a massive machine with so many departments and so much beaurocracy that no president, including Bush totally understands it.

Presidents, Congressmen, Cabinet Members and Appointees project a knowledgeable demeanor but they are spouting what they are told by career people who never go away and who train their replacements carefully. These are military and civil servants with enormous collective power, armed with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, Defense Industrial Security Manuals, compartmentalized classification structures and "Rice Bowls" which are never mixed.

Our society has slowly given this power structure its momentum which is constant and extraordinarily tough to bend. The cost to the average American is exhorbitant in terms of real dollars and bad decisions. Every major power structure member in the Pentagon's many Washington Offices and Field locations in the US and Overseas has a counterpart in Defense Industry Corporate America. That collective body has undergone major consolidation in the last 10 years.

What used to be a broad base of competitive firms is now a few huge monoliths, such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Boeing.

Government oversight committees are carefully stroked. Sam Nunn and others who were around for years in military and policy oversight roles have been cajoled, given into on occasion but kept in the dark about the real status of things until it is too late to do anything but what the establishment wants. This still continues - with increasing high technology and potential for abuse.

Please examine the following link to testimony given by Franklin C. Spinney before Congress in 2002. It provides very specific information from a whistle blower who is still blowing his whistle (Look him up in your browser and you get lots of feedback) Frank spent the same amount of time as I did in the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) but in government quarters. His job in government was a similar role to mine in defense companies. Frank's emphasis in this testimony is on the money the machine costs us. It is compelling and it is noteworthy that he was still a staff analyst at the Pentagon when he gave this speech. I still can't figure out how he got his superior's permission to say such blunt things. He was extremely highly respected and is now retired.


The brick wall I often refer to is the Pentagon's own arrogance. It will implode by it's own volition, go broke, or so drastically let down the American people that it will fall in shambles. Rest assured the day of the implosion is coming. The machine is out of control.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting on this blog entitled, "Odyssey of Armaments"


On the same subject, you may also be interested in the following sites from the "Project On Government Oversight", observing it's 25th Anniversary and from "Defense In the National Interest", inspired by Franklin Spinney and contributed to by active/reserve, former, or retired military personnel. More facts on the Military Industrial Complex can be gleaned from "The Dissident" link, also posted below:





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