West Point political scientist Don Snider, one of our best
experts on military professionalism, offers up an thoughtful proposal
about how to keep retired generals on the straight and narrow: Have each of the
service chiefs of staff, the "stewards" of the profession, maintain a voluntary
registry of retired senior generals' affiliations with corporations and
Since he is responsible to
maintain the Profession's effectiveness through its ethic, he [the chief of
staff] should quickly establish under the auspices of the Profession an
electronic registry of retired three- and four-star generals that details the
affiliations of each officer, both with for-profit and not-for-profit entities.
To rightly restore the moral obligations over the legal, the registry would be
voluntary. Each retired officer would voluntarily enter their own affiliations
and keep them current.
Most importantly, the registry
would be open to the public so that any interested person could see at any
time, under the auspices of the Profession, the ties each individual retired
general has and has voluntarily offered to the public. Perceptions of conflicts
of interest can best be avoided if all affiliations are well-known in advance
of commitments and contracts.
But would the retired general
officers voluntarily cooperate with the Chief of Staff to create and to
maintain the registry; would they continue to support in this new manner the
Profession for which they and their families have sacrificed so much for so
long? Frankly, that depends on how much they cherish their public role as moral
exemplars and therefore seek to avoid the deathly appearance of conflicts of
My belief is that the vast
majority, if not every single one, would do so quite willingly. Their
individual reputations and the vital trust relationships of the Profession are
simply too valuable to them to consider doing otherwise. For the one who might
not, it would be apparent to all who inquire that he or she is simply operating
outside the auspices of the Army Profession. Let the buyer beware.
. . . . The public, the civilian
leaders over our military, and junior military professionals of all services
will all be more trusting of their Professions if the commitments and loyalties
of retired generals are open to all to see. The Service Chiefs should act, now."
I don't much like his Teutonic capitalizing of "Profession,"
but I like the idea. I think it has a better chance of flying than my own
belief that service chiefs should ask retired generals to stay out of the
business of endorsing presidential candidates, or at least not use their
service affiliations in doing so.