Christmas has come and gone, but it's not too late to bequeath a few lumps of coal to so-called "leaders," caught in the act of behaving badly.
We'll begin with Air Force Major General Michael Carey. He was removed from his post as Commander of 20th Air Force at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming back in October, amid reports of "misconduct" during a trip overseas. More recently, we leared just what General Carey did during the trip to Russia last July. Excerpts from the investigation report--released by the Air Force just before the holidays--were printed by the Washington Post. It suggests conduct worthy of a drunken college student (with apologies to spring breakers everywhere), and not a senior Air Force leader. A few choice nuggets:
"Major General Carey consumed alcoholic beverages to the extent that it impacted his conduct during briefings, during the banquets, during the tour of the monastery and on the walk to Red Square for dinner."
"...Carey stated he only had about half a dozen shots of 8 ounces and sipped on some toasts and finished his class on others. He also stated he didn't remember the particulars of any of his toasts other than them being about camraderies. When asked if he was intoxicated when he left the banquet, he declined to answer.
"Lt Col [Redacted] also recalled the two women's arrival and that Major General Carey got up and went to the table with the two women, "the two young ladies came in and said hello to everyone at the table...which surprised me. And then the General and the translator went over and sat with them."
Another member of the delegation--also interviewed by investigators--recalled Carey dancing with one of the women. Other witnesses reported that Carey's heavy drinking began during a stop-over in Switzerland, before the group traveled to Russia. Judging from their testimony, it seems clear that Carey had little concern for the "image" he was projecting, or potential security threats. What are the odds that the inebriated general might have "bumped" into a Russian intel operative (or two) during his trip?
Within 90 days of his return from Moscow, General Carey had been sacked as commander of 20th Air Force, which is in charge of the Air Force's three, land-based ICBM wings. And rightfully so. At the time, various conspiracy theories were advanced, claiming that Carey was the victim of an Obama Administration plot to remove a number of senior officers from their posts, and replace them with individuals who might be more supportive of White House policies. But it appears that General Carey's dismissal was nothing more than the result of bad behavior and poor judgement on his part.
Still, there is another element to this story. The Air Force has not announced if Major General Carey has been punished for his misdeeds, aside from the dismissal from command. In fact, there's ever reason to believe that Carey will quietly slither out the door a few months from, pension and retirement benefits fully intact.
We're not advocating that Carey be dismissed from service. But his dismal conduct during an official visit--not to mention the security risks from fraternizing with those two female agents--deserves a bit more than a slap on the wrist. Besides, it seems highly unlikely that General Carey's drunken spree was simply a one-time event. In our experience, the drunks and other miscreants have a long history of such behavior that finally catches up with them. It would not surprise us to learn that Carey had similar issues in the past, but they were either ignored or covered up.
That's why the new Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and the Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh, could send an important signal by taking one of Carey's stars (or busting him back to Colonel) and imposing a substantial fine, before approving his retirement request. Such a move would clearly get the attention of senior officers and officials, and possibly deter similar behavior in the future.
In fairness, Carey is something of a piker compared to his civilian counterparts on Capitol Hill. Led by Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray, they came together--in that celebrated spirit of bipartisanship--to limit future benefits for military retirees and wounded veterans. In an opinion piece for MSNBC, former Army Captain (and Pennsylvania Congressman) Patrick Murphy noted that his former colleagues reached a budget deal on the backs of those who served:
"While the budget agreement may help to avert another government shutdown, it does so in no small part through unprecedented cuts to veterans’ benefits, including a 1% reduction in promised cost-of-living increases for military retirees under 62 years old. That amounts to a $6 billion cut in benefits.
Congress usually waits until after our troops come home before they start gutting benefits. But 47,000 troops are spending Christmas on the ground in Afghanistan. Troops who just watched their elected leaders kneecap their retirement security. Just when you thought Congress couldn’t get any lower, they broke faith with our troops once again.
A sergeant first class with two decades of service earns roughly $32,000 annually ($2637/month). Under these cuts, his or her pension will lose some $80,000 over the next 20 years. The Republicans pushing these cuts claimed the agreement wouldn’t affect the benefits of disabled veterans, many whom can’t work and rely disproportionately on their pensions to pay their bills and feed their families."
Murphy, a Democrat, places most of the blame on Republicans--and he has a point. Language reducing benefits for military retirees was part of the original bill, and GOP lawmakers (as well as Democrats) made no effort to change the measure until their little "plan" was discovered. Now, our elected leaders are falling over themselves, pledging to "fix" the cuts as soon as they reconvene in January.
A couple of points. First, given the priority assigned to cutting military pensions, you'd think that retirees and veterans are literally breaking the federal budget. Fact is, military retiree pensions total just $4 billion a year, less than 1% of the DoD budget. If the cuts remain in place, the total savings, over a 10-year period, would be just $6 billion. That's little more than an accounting blip in a federal budget that totals more than $3.4 trillion.
Secondly, Congress is not requesting similar sacrifices from other groups who receive federal benefits, and there's a political calculation behind that omission. Ryan, Murray and the rest believe that military retirees and wounded vets aren't a large enough voting bloc to affect the outcome of future elections. That's rank cynicism of the first order.
But their calculus may be a bit off, at least on the GOP side. Republicans who voted in favor of the budget deal may face primary battles in 2014--from challengers who are military retirees or veterans. Democrats are also recruiting candidates with a military background, but they too, will pay a price for supporting the Ryan-Murray plan.
They deserve nothing less.