If you don’t know me well, you may not want to read further. I break from my down-the-middle moderation and defend a concept while notably not defending the individual.
Recently, the Washington Post wrote a less-than-flattering assessment of the post-military career of (primarily) General Stanley McChrystal, USA, that appeared in global outlets, including Stars and Stripes. As is often the case in today’s media, the article conflates multiple issues and uses a narrow example to swipe at a broad swath of post-government officials. The article highlights the post-military business successes of senior uniformed officers, primarily those who led in Afghanistan.
As documentation is unclassified in due course, we will surely learn lessons about our nation’s time at war in Afghanistan. We may learn things that make us uncomfortable. We may learn things with which we disagree. We may challenge the thousands of decisions successive administrations took.Those few who rise to the very top of the military would surely rise to the top of almost any organization they were a part of. Click To Tweet
Our citizens had the power at their disposal all along to end the war much sooner. But we did not use that power. We did not insist that the nation must go to war, not just the military. As a result, the war in Afghanistan was a distant abstraction to the average American. The overwhelming majority of Americans were untouched by the fight for far too long.
To suggest that those who served should somehow be ineligible to participate in a post-military business career is wrong. Should we cap the post-military salary of our highest-ranking officers? Should we stop paying them the retired military annuity they earned because they adapted successfully to the corporate world?
There are good reasons that a tiny percentage of the military rises to four-star command. It takes a level of intellectual brilliance few have coupled with a degree of personal sacrifice few would genuinely endure. Those few who rise to the very top of the military would surely rise to the top of almost any organization they were a part of. Like our sports figures, we want them to be saints. They are not saints. They are human, and they have the same capacity to disappoint as do any of us.
The Revolving Door of Government
The revolving door of government is well-documented in peer-reviewed academic research. Loosely defined, the revolving door refers to an individual taking their process knowledge, policy knowledge, and contacts they learned in government into a lucrative business position. All government agencies have well-established post-government employment restrictions, some of which take effect with the first discussion of a possible job opportunity one might consider. A regime of both law and policy in place limits the speed with which the revolving door might spin while balancing an individual’s right to pursue employment in or out of government.
To use post-military employment success as mud to throw at military officers whose ultimate mission failed in Afghanistan is ignorant. Sadly, it sells papers and garners clicks. In this particular article, it’s also unfortunate that General McChrystal’s responses to reporters in this article are so lacking in sophistication. That said, he owes no apology for building a successful business serving a client base that values his thoughts and ideas. It’s called capitalism. Our country is made, in part, on this ideal, and it’s this opportunity, so many millions have come here to experience.
On September 15th, I released my second book, Make Your Move – Charting Your Post-Military Career. This book shares the story of my career to date, and is written to support military professionals who are facing a career transition. All proceeds from the book will go to the Freedom Fighter Outdoors, a charitable organization supporting injured veterans. You can read more and order your copy of Make Your Move – Charting Your Post-Military Career here.