Peppered throughout Larry Wilkerson’s wide ranging comments in Williamsburg were references showing his disdain for the diminution of ethics in public service. Wilkerson has extended Eisenhower’s perception of the tentacles of influence to include the Congress. “What we need are more people who can stand against power without being corrupted.”
He told of being at Penn State University a couple of weeks ago. When he finished, a woman in the back stood up and she asked “Well, what can we do? What can we do?” And, because he had just finished talking about the military-industrial complex, and how much money that is bleeding off taxpayers, “I said, well one thing you can do is get rid of John Murtha. I know John Murtha, John Murtha is a good guy. John Murtha is so profane that he used to get out of HUMMVEES when we’d take him on a CODEL and he would curse everything in sight. John Murtha is a former Marine, but John Murtha is corrupt as hell. And you cannot deal with the military-industrial-congressional complex today…which as Eisenhower said in 1961, we should be very aware of, and very vigilant about…you can’t deal with it without recognizing that when you have someone like that, you need to get rid of him.”
Ted Stevens was another one, he added, and credited his own party for ousting. Not sure why they did it, he thinks they just got mad at him personally, but his party got rid of him. “We need to do more of that and we need to elect more people who are interested in the interests of their taxpayers outside that military-industrial complex.” How many of you, he asked, look at the Washington Post every day? How many of you know that full page ad from Lockheed on the F-22 Raptor? Isn’t that incredible? I mean I have cut three out already in the last three days and I am going to take them to my seminar at GW and I am going to ask “You think the military-industrial complex isn’t powerful? What do we need with an F-22 Raptor? The last price tag I got was 300 plus million per platform. What do we need with it? Who’s flying its equivalent at us right now? My God, what’s coming at us right now are our own airplanes with terrorists at the helm. I’m military; spent my life in the military, but that’s crazy. It’s crazy; we do not need these expensive things. What we need is what Secretary Gates has said. He is having an enormous fight right now with Lockheed, Raytheon, and others. And he has just hired the principle lobbyist for Raytheon to be his Deputy, Bill Lind. I don’t know how that is going to work.
Telling a story about being at a dinner recently with former President Musharraf, he found himself sitting in a room with a very small group. “I am looking and I shouldn’t have been amazed, but I everyone else besides me was Raytheon, Lockheed, Grumman, Boeing. They were all there because they had heard that Pakistan was getting another 10 billion; that some of it would be for the war with India, high tech, therefore, and they wanted to make sure they got their word in with former President Musharraf because they know he still has a lot of influence.” Sitting beside the Lockheed guy, he turns to him, an old three star air force general that he happened to know, and Wilkerson asked where he had been lately. He told him that he was in the UAE. So Wilkerson asked him what he was doing in the UAE. “Oh I was selling them a full air defense envelope from low altitude to high altitude.” Wilkerson asked what the hell the UAE needs with a full air defense envelope. “Well, they are worried about this and they are worried about that, and you know…” It’s happening Wilkerson concluded, because of the military-industrial complex. It’s happening for the same reason Henry Kissinger sold the Shah of Iran 20 billion dollars worth of arms right after the ’73 oil embargo. Because we can’t tolerate all this huge shift of wealth that’s going out to the petroleum producers so we try to balance it with arms. That’s not a very good way to balance it. We should be balancing it with more productivity, a better manufacturing sector, the kind of things David Smick talks about in his book that we have got to resurrect and put out there even more formidably than we were before. “Selling arms is a fool’s game. Selling arms in this instance is probably coming back to haunt us in other ways than just spending the taxpayers’ money as we are finding out in other places. “
Here’s the most disturbing thing David (Smick) said and it came almost as a footnote. I think it was Paul Nitze’s son, asked the question similar to the one you just asked, but he was asking about a different regulation mechanism as a way of countering bad banking and David said “At the center of this crisis is the diminution of core values, also unprecedented in our history.” That was a very worrisome thing for him to say and we just glided right over it because no one really wanted to pester him about it.
Wasn’t Sarbanes-Oxley designed to create more honesty and responsibility in these finance operations? How is that going to drive the markets to London?
David has a whole chapter on this…I am no expert so I am reluctant to speak about it. But in layman’s terms the way I understand it, he sees entrepreneurship as the essence of a working capitalist economy that is going to lift lots of people up globally and us being the engine of that. He sees that for example as being the difference between us and China; us and Japan. That we have this incredible range of entrepreneurs…anything from Bill Gates to Warren Buffett and all the people who failed in the process. If you make it too difficult…and obviously you have to accept some corruption in this…if you make it too difficult…he makes no bones about it…to make easy money, then you are going to put the kabash, you are going to put the lid on that kind of entrepreneurship. And it’s his claim that that kind of entrepreneurship has fueled the last 30 or 40 years of unprecedented; and we have to admit, with all the dot com bubble and the housing bubble and the rest, it’s been unprecedented prosperity; not just for us but for the globe. And he says we’ll end it if we tighten down too tight.
Now I want to tighten down. I want to beat the bums. I want to put them in jail. But, I kinda understand what he is saying.
And if you think about it and you think about Greenspan, and these others like Greenspan and you think about central bankers all over the world…and these CEOs and these big investment banks and these hedge fund operators…everyone is in it for what they can get out of it and no one is in it for the country, for the betterment of their workers, for the betterment of their industry and so forth anymore, you’ve got a real problem. I don’t know how you fix that. So I prefer not to think about that too hard. That’s part of our problem in the universities, maybe, part of our problem in the schools, public and private…not inculcating a better the sense of civic virtue, the sense of honesty and decency and so forth.
Comment from the audience: What I don’t get is that the responsible officer on the books is saying "Yes, this is what we’ve got."
Wilkerson: What he has to say about that is that everybody is lying, so it doesn’t do any good.
David’s point is this: that it went too far. I am reminded of what a 26 year veteran of the House of Representatives of my own party said to me not too long ago over in the Capital Hill Club, he said, ”Larry, you know, we’ve always had corruption in government. You need corruption in government. You need corruption to make the wheels of commerce, the wheels of the legislature and so forth turn. But Larry, we are so bogged down in corruption now, the wheels have stopped.”
When asked if term limits for Senators and Representatives would help eliminate some of that corruption “because you can’t stay there for 30 years and let the world go by,” he responded: “Yeah, but I would rather see an uplifting of those with civic virtue come to the Hill and stay as long as they would like. That’s the way you build the kind of experience that allows you to deal with the complexities of the matters that confront them today.” He doesn’t know how you would operate with an Appropriations Committee Chairman without at least 10 years experience.
I do know what another Senator who just left the Senate told me; a Republican, “This is the most venal, corrupt, and incompetent group of legislators I have ever been among.” That’s why I do not have too much trouble with Obama running all over them if he can.
When asked if he would favor bringing back the draft he responded that that's an excellent question and one being debated on the hill. But it's being debated by people who routinely do this sort of thing. Chuck Hagel was one who wanted to have a national service program much the way Marshall, Eisenhower, Truman wanted universal military service, only this would be a national service. You'd turn eighteen and a half or so, you'd hit the draft board and tell them Peace Corps, Coast Guard, Army, Navy Marine Corps, Air Force, Teach for America, and every eighteen and a half year old who had the health and the brains would be incorporated in national service.
That would be a conscription of a sort. No one wants to do it because everyone on the Hill says the American people will not buy it, period. Interestingly, having introduced women into the force the way we have has made this an even more impossibility because now politicians are thinking not only do we have to deal with the mothers and fathers of the sons, we have to deal with them over their daughters. I have not heard anyone, Charles Rangel, who brought it up a couple of times, Chuck Hagel, Lindsay Graham, who talked about it, because they think it is a political impossibility.
One of the things that might make them think again, if the DoD were honest with you the taxpayer, Wilkerson commented, they would have to tell you that 60% of their costs right now…that's three quarters of a trillion dollars a year are being spent…60% of their costs are people. That's how expensive, your foreign mercenaries are. That's how expensive your French Foreign Legion is. Which is why when Gates and President Obama say they are going to increase the size of the Marine Corps and the Army, I know they are whistling Dixie. That's the most expensive element of the military. Not F22s, not aircraft carriers, not bombers…people. Health care, retirement costs, training and education and so forth, that's the most expensive element of the military.
This is a continuation of earlier posts from a presentation by the former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell. More of Lawrence Wilkerson's Williamsburg Observations:
Military-Industrial-Congressional Corruption (Today)
Cross posted at Blue Commonwealth