"There's no such thing as a free lunch" is an old American adage. Venerable, time-tested, and seemingly true, though here's an exception: retired general, disgraced former CIA chief, and leaker of classified information, David Petraeus.
For years, I've presented the retired general with an opportunity for that rarest of opportunities, a noon nosh out for nothing. More than five years ago, I offered to take "King David" to lunch at New York City's tony Four Seasons. That posh restaurant - a Manhattan mainstay for 60 years - is now long gone, but my appetite for that meal remains. Earlier this month, I renewed my offer to take him to lunch. An intermediary replied: "Hi, Nick - Appreciate your interest, but he respectfully declines."
Petraeus is in a rare position. Leakers of government secrets often end up eating their lunch in a prison mess hall. After former CIA agent John Kiriakou pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by disclosing the name of a covert CIA officer to a freelance reporter, he was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. After Stephen Kim, a former State Department official, merely discussed a classified report about North Korea with a Fox News reporter and pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act, he was handed a 13-month prison sentence.
Petraeus, on the other hand, leaked hundreds of secret documents to his then-lover, yet pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor and served no jail time, allowing him, as the New York Times put it, "to focus on his lucrative post-government career." More specifically, he became a partner at New York private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. L.P. (KKR), where he also serves as the chairman of the KKR Global Institute. There, he's overseen "the institute's thought leadership platform focused on geopolitical and macro-economic trends, as well as environmental, social, and governance issues." He also serves on the board of directors of Optiv ("a market-leading provider of end-to-end cyber security solutions") and of OneStream ("which supports a cloud-based platform that helps companies close their books accurately and do planning, budgeting, forecasting, and analysis"), while acting as "a venture investor in some 20 startups." And when he's not engaged in "thought leadership" or venture investing, Petraeus takes time out to pontificate on national security issues, like praising the U.S. armed forces, while pressing for the endless military occupation of, and lamenting the end of, the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Today, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich examines the Petraeus-era cohort of war-losing, the-buck-stops-somewhere-else, upwards-failing generals, and presses for a full-scale purge of the Pentagon high command. His piece raises many crucial questions: Could the world's private equity firms support that many out-of-work generals? Could that much brass fit through Washington's famed revolving door? Would any of them have lunch with me given that I (along with so many other citizens) bankrolled the wars they lost and the generous pensions they reap? In the meantime, let Bacevich explain why there's no accountability for what Petraeus has called "the best military in the world today" and what Joe Biden could (but won't) do about it. Still think there's no such thing as a free lunch? Don't you believe it. Nick
How Awesome Is "Awesome"?
America's Underperforming Military
Professional sports is a cutthroat business. Succeed and the people running the show reap rich rewards. Fail to meet expectations and you get handed your walking papers. American-style war in the twenty-first century is quite a different matter.
Of course, war is not a game. The stakes on the battlefield are infinitely higher than on the playing field. When wars go wrong, "We'll show 'em next year - just you wait!" is seldom a satisfactory response.
At least, it shouldn't be. Yet somehow, the American people, our political establishment, and our military have all fallen into the habit of shrugging off or simply ignoring disappointing outcomes. A few years ago, a serving army officer of unusual courage published an essay - in Armed Forces Journal no less - in which he charged that "a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."
The charge stung because it was irrefutably true then and it remains so today.
As American politics has become increasingly contentious, the range of issues on which citizens agree has narrowed to the point of invisibility. For Democrats, promoting diversity has become akin to a sacred obligation. For Republicans, the very term is synonymous with political correctness run amok. Meanwhile, GOP supporters treat the Second Amendment as if it were a text Moses carried down from Mount Sinai, while Democrats blame the so-called right to bear arms for a plague of school shootings in this country.
On one point, however, an unshakable consensus prevails: the U.S. military is tops. No less august a figure than General David Petraeus described our armed forces as "the best military in the world today, by far." Nor, in his judgment, was "this situation likely to change anytime soon." His one-word characterization for the military establishment: "awesome."
The claim was anything but controversial. Indeed, Petraeus was merely echoing the views of politicians, pundits, and countless other senior officers. Praising the awesomeness of that military has become twenty-first-century America's can't miss applause line.
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