Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
 
Understanding Influence

Armchair Generalist
cites an LA Times article indicating that the frontrunner to replace Paul Wolfowitz as Deputy Secretary of Defense is current Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England.
England's background is in electrical engineering and business, and he seems to have spent much of his career at General Dynamics, which describes itself thusly: "General Dynamics has leading market positions in mission-critical information systems and technologies; land and expeditionary combat systems, armaments and munitions; shipbuilding and marine systems; and business aviation." When you take a look General Dynamics' Board on TheyRule.net or at Forbes.com, you'll see that there are plenty of military and governmental connections*.

This is the stuff of conspiracy legends. Do a Technorati search on England and you're likely to find items like this round-up of "War Profiteers." The storyline is pretty simple: the people who build weapons systems and sell them are too often the same people--at some other point in their lifecycle--who decide to go to war and decide how to spend our military dollars. And they all know each other far better than the rest of us know them. Therefore much of what gets decided in Washington--what kind of weapons to buy for our army, when to use them so we need more, and what kind of weapons to sell to another country---gets decided primarily based on the interests of a narrow class of very wealthy people and corporations, and not on the basis of what's actually simply good for the country as a whole. For example, this Navy Press Release informs the public about a $27.8 Million contract awarded to General Dynamics' Advanced Information Systems, a unit that Secretary England used to run. Was it really remotely unhelpful for GD-AIS executives and engineers to pitch their project to a staff directed by their own old boss? There's no way of knowing, but you can imagine the storyline.


You won't be surprised to hear that there are plenty of card-carying believers of this storyline in Berkeley, for example, but you might be surprised to hear that there are plenty of card-carrying dismissers around here too. I'm going to paraphrase someone I was discussing these things with the other day, but consider it a mock-up of a representative argument: "My belief in human decency aside, I just can't believe that these kinds of decisions--what fighter jets we want an ally to buy, for example--are just based, or even mostly based, on the profit factor for the corporations that builds them. These decisions are too big and strategic to be based on pure corruption."

I'm guessing the truth is somewhere in between, and that many of these men (well, mostly men) have strong patriotic inclinations to optimize their governmental decisions for the good of the country. But conflict of interest doesn't always have to be blatant or intentional--it can also be unintentional and subconcious. People make a lot of decisions based on gut instincts and comfort levels, and those decisions can be wrong. That's one reason why information is considered the oxygen of democracy, to quote Steven Aftergood. The wider members of the Republic--the kinds of people who do not have tear-sheets on Forbes.com--are supposed to have a chance to look at these kinds of decisions and make a fuss when they get too cozy. The decisions, however, are so thoroughly couched in jargon and byzantine connections, so that's difficult to do. Because I'm a ridiculous optimist, I'm sure it must be possible to get regular, or at least smart and educated regular, people involved in these decisions. Not sure how, though.


*(Sample: Jay Johnson,
Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy, and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1996 until July 2000; George A. Joulwan, U.S. Army. Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, from 1993 to 1997; Paul G. Kaminski under Secretary of U.S. Department of Defense for Acquisition and Technology from 1994 to 1997; Carl E. Mundy, Jr., ed the Marine Corps and served as military adviser to the President and Secretary of Defense from 1991 to 1995.)
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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