I was in a discussion the other day about all the national security officials leaving the Obama Administration. One person snidely said that the rats were leaving the ship. My friend and CNAS colleague Bob Killebrew responded thusly.
By Col. Robert
Killebrew (USA, Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
In my own view, anybody who puts up with life in that
hothouse for two weeks, even, deserves better than that kind of shot.
I once was considered for an appointed post, but thankfully
came out second-best to an enormously talented person who took a pay cut to
serve her country. I later visited her in the office that would have been mine;
she was sitting at a nicked-up wooden desk in an office that had a bunch of
gray safes and old office furniture; I would not have been surprised to see a
naked lightbulb hanging down from the ceiling. I left thankful that the cup had
passed from me and with great sympathy for her and all the people -- many of
them military officers -- who worked with her. She put in a little less than
two years, did a superb job under very trying circumstances, and never
The person I'm describing is not the only example; I was in the Pentagon this week and was again struck by the caliber of people in appointed posts who can quit anytime, but instead show up at 7:00 a.m. and grind away every day at both the petty and the grave tasks of American policy. I know there is the occasional dirtbag, and the occasional career-seeker padding his or her resume, but on the whole these are people working below their pay scale because they've been asked to do so, putting their own careers and families on hold. I know it's stylish to denigrate government, from the President to the postman, but Bill Lynn and others below and above him deserve our respect.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.