21 April 2008

Speak for yourselves, boys!

Secretary Gates Remarks at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Montgomery Alabama

Q Sir, Lieutenant Colonel (Name inaudible) from Air Command and Staff College. Sir, we appreciate you taking the time today and coming to speak to us.

Yesterday, the New York Times had an article that talked about the number of retired senior officers who are commentators but who also serve on boards for companies that are profiting from the war. Sir, what do you think about all these senior officers who are now retired influencing public opinion about the Department of Defense and the war effort? And I don't know if you had a chance to read the article, but what do you think about that, if you will, conflict of interest that they are involved in?

SEC. GATES: Well, I will tell you that this is actually -- the increasing engagement of retired officers in the political process and in the media is something that has really taken off -- (inaudible) -- in 1993. There were only one or two -- a handful of examples of it before 1993. And now it's kind of a cottage industry. I suppose in a flip sort of way I could say, the good-news side is there are now so many it doesn't really matter. If there were still just a handful out there they might actually have some real influence.

But when you've got scores of these guys either signing up for different candidates or as media experts and so on -- the worry that I have in this whole thing, whether they are signing up with candidates or whether they are acting as experts for the media, is the important -- when they are referred to by their title, the public doesn't know whether they are active-duty or retired, often, because those distinctions tend to get blurred, and they don't know whether they're speaking for the institution or for themselves.

And so if I had one request to all of them, it would be in whatever role they're playing that they make clear that they're not speaking for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, or the Marines Corps, or the Department of Defense, but only speaking for themselves.

And I suppose that takes a little of the gloss over the -- off of their appeal, but I think that's the honest way to approach this.

My -- I did read the article, and frankly, I think it -- I couldn't quite tell how much of it was an implied political conflict of interest, an implied financial conflict of interest or what.

But -- so I would just limit myself to saying I think that the one service they owe everybody is making clear that they're speaking only for themselves.

Sticks, Stones and Glass Houses

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