War Is Hell – Except in Retirement

Retired Flag Officers with Massoud Barzani
Retired Flag Officers with Massoud Barzani

Former National Security Advisor and Marine Commandant Gen. James Jones spoke at a National Press Club luncheon last month. He will speak to you, too, for a price. How much? Call his speaker’s bureau, Leading Authorities, Inc. In fact, there are several more generals available for hire, including the recently retired Stanley McChrystal, the former Commander of U.S. and International Forces in Afghanistan.

Less than eight months after leaving the White House, Jones has his own consulting group, Jones Group International, with offices in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. His government service is the group’s main selling point. And that is exactly what he and almost every other ranking military officer do to some degree: sell their military service, training, and knowledge to the highest bidder.

Standing in front of the Press Club audience, Jones looks like a Hollywood version of a Marine general. An imposing six feet, four inches, he is not a particularly moving or inspirational speaker. His voice and cadence do not match his stature. But one cannot help but wonder, listening to his speech and the subsequent questions and answers about his views on national security, if his opinions are his own or are they influenced by his clients’ interests. If he is on the payroll of corporations and foreign governments, how much credibility can one give to his views about Iran’s “menacing shadow,” except to think that Iran is not one of his clients?

When Jones advocates for an international Marshall Plan for Egypt, who can tell whether or not some of the millions of dollars that come his way are coming from entities with interests in Egypt or even American tax dollars flowing back into American groups from U.S. military and foreign aid to Egypt to lobby on their behalf.

When he spoke about NATO’s decision last fall in Portugal to turn over complete control of Afghanistan to the Karzai government by 2014, he said that among his wish list for Afghanistan is to “encourage the business community to invest” in that country. Is this the view of one of the country’s most important government servants or someone on the payroll of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

Gen. Jones is both. He is paid handsomely by the Chamber of Commerce and receives a generous government pension. Perhaps that is why he advocates the “holistic approach to problem solving,” otherwise known as nation building, in countries like Iraq rather than in cities like Detroit, even as study after study show America’s infrastructure is in desperate shape.

When asked about the current federal deficits and the need to cut military spending, Jones said when the “money trough is open,” the Pentagon “takes it and uses it.” He believes Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed cuts in spending will give the military more discipline and focus. (The Pentagon budget doubled after 9/11.)

Jones offers himself as an authority on energy and identifies climate change and energy as an important component to the role the United States will play in the 21st Century. He is seen in the corridors of power as a stable, punctual man who is prepared to lead the “have” nations on the correct course to help the “have nots” select the right mix of energy choices.

Energy policy is the area Jones either staked out for himself or the Chamber of Commerce chose for him. Before joining the White House, Jones was president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber Institute for 21st Century Energy where his $900,000 lobbying job was to keep America secure by gaining support for “common sense” energy policy. The institute supports all forms of energy including oil and gas, “clean coal,” and nuclear power as the solution for climate change. Jones also served on the board of Chevron where he earned a $290,000 director fee.

According to government disclosure forms, Jones earned millions of dollars from the time he retired from the Marine Corps in February 2007 until he joined the Obama White House in January 2009 from Boeing and other companies with government interests.

In his October 8, 2010 blog, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher predicted Jones’ return to the Chamber when he left the White House. “What’s his next step?  Follow the greenback,” he wrote.

Fleisher is hardly a soothsayer. What he predicted for Jones is de rigueur in Washington. In March, Jones rejoined the Chamber of Commerce. In a prepared statement, Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue said that Jones’ “advice on a wide range of economic and national security issues will prove invaluable to the Chamber, our members, and our country as we work aggressively to create jobs, spur the economy, and engage the world.”

Admiral William Fallon with Massoud Barzani
Admiral William Fallon with Massoud Barzani
The reason Jones interested me was not his Press Club speech, but his attendance at another meeting in October 2008. A source at that meeting provided me with photographs of all the former flag officers and government officials meeting with Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, at a lobbying firm a few blocks from the Iraq-Kurdish “embassy” at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C.

My source was not upset about General Jones’ attendance. What upset him was Admiral William Fallon. Fallon had only left the military a few months before the meeting where he had been Commander, U.S. Central Command – or General David Petraeus’ boss – at the height of the Iraq War. Now he was meeting with leaders of the oil-rich Kurdish region of Iraq.

Around the table is a Who’s Who from the Pentagon. “All with ties to corporations. All want to talk to Talabani about oil,” my source says. The flag in the case had been flown over the U.S. Capitol. A gift from Joe Biden.

Barzani and Iraq President Jalal Talabani have long promoted Kurdistan as “open for business.” They are creations of the United States. Without American taxpayer money and military and intelligence support, they would not have amassed personal fortunes or political power. Their success was bought by the lives and limbs of U.S. soldiers. They know that.

At Walter Reed Army Hospital, Talabani puts money under pillows – “$5000 a pop. Guys didn’t know it. ‘You saved our country. You are our liberators,’” my source says he told the wounded soldiers. And now the admirals and generals want their share of the spoils.

General James Jones with Massoud Barzani
General James Jones with Massoud Barzani
Jones spoke at an October 2009 conference in Washington, the U.S.-Iraq Business and Investment Conference (USIBIC), co-hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Investment Council of Iraq. It “is part of broader U.S. policy to normalize relations with Iraq and strengthen economic partnerships as a way to foster democracy and federalism.” Talabani’s son, Qubad Talabani, the Kurdish Regional Government Representative to the U.S – or the Kurd’s shadow ambassador – issued a statement. “Business-to-business relationships form the foundation of enduring bonds between nations and are particularly important for the future of our relationship with the U.S. …Indeed, increased economic development will only serve to ensure the sacrifices made by Americans in Iraq will lead to a free and prosperous country.”

Clearly, the message equates the enormous sacrifices this country has made during the war with business investments in Iraq. Success – winning the war – is only achieved if American businesses invest in that country. This view is promoted by the State and Commerce Departments. It is Jones’ “holistic approach.”

The media used to criticize the “revolving door,” when military leaders left for civilian jobs and “double dipped.” Today, no one cares about another ethically-challenged general. It used to be considered unseemly for government officials to trade on their service. Most military officers used to take their pensions and retire to modest homes. No more. What Jones or Fallon do is commonplace. Their turns through the revolving door are no longer frowned upon. In fact, there are numerous contractors ready to hire them. It is an international pipeline of money that is now institutionalized and entrenched.

At the Press Club, reporters asked Jones polite, solicitous questions. He is part of the vast, bipartisan military-foreign-policy-homeland-national security establishment. The former Obama national security advisor is a protégé of President George H.W. Bush’s national security advisor Brent Scowcroft. He will be the founding chairman of the new Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council. His vice chair is George Lund, the chairman of Torch Hill Investment Partners. They give each other awards. Brent Scowcroft is a partner in Torch Hill. They use him to market their services which are “the union of financial expertise and unrivaled security sector knowledge.” Their team is a who’s who of former military and national security officials now cashing in, like Jones, on the country’s never ending international challenges. You, too, can be part of the Atlantic Council, for a price. For $100,000 you can be a member of their Global Leadership Circle. (Cheaper seats are available.)

Another bipartisan group is the Business Executives for National Security. They give each other awards. Without a wisp of irony, Jones gave this year’s Eisenhower Award to Joseph E. Robert, Jr., Founder and Executive Chairman, J.E. Robert Company, a company that manages “a broad spectrum of real estate equity investments and debt products in the U.S. and Europe.”

Another group is the Bipartisan Policy Center that welcomed Jones to advise them on national security and energy issues.

It is hard to know who is influencing Jones these days because his new Jones Group International will not say who they represent or even who are the other members of the group. Following up on Jones’ speech at the Press Club, I phoned his office to ask two simple questions: Who are your clients? Who are members of your group?

Barb Murnane said she was not prepared to answer my questions, and I should send her an email. I did. I will let you know when I get a reply.