General Breedlove’s Integrity

Are retired officers on defense boards presumed liars?

Writing at the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft blog, Eli Clifton employs irresponsible innuendo to discredit calls for more Western support for Ukraine in its war against Russian invaders. The piece is entitled “Surprise: Ex-general pushing for NATO troops in Ukraine has weapons industry ties.”

Weapons companies and military contractors stand to book new orders and enjoy heightened demand for new weapons systems, as the United States and NATO countries scale up spending in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Coincidentally or not, one of the most high-profile advocates for dramatically escalating NATO’s involvement in the war — literally calling for putting troops and arms inside Ukraine — quietly moonlights as a consultant for weapons firms and defense contractors, interests that presumably stand to benefit from a direct conflict between NATO and Russia.

More importantly, that conflict of interest hasn’t been disclosed in any of his media appearances or interviews.

On Sunday, retired U.S. general and former top NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove told The Times of London: “So what could the West do? Well, right now there are no Russian troops west of the Dnieper River. So why don’t we put Nato troops into western Ukraine to carry out humanitarian missions and to set up a forward arms supply base?”

The escalation of NATO boots on the ground inside Ukraine would make NATO a direct participant in the war, dramatically increase the likelihood of Russian attacks on NATO personnel and facilities, and raise the risk of a nuclear conflict.

Breedlove, whom The Times notes is “advising the Biden administration on Ukraine,” also works as a consultant for the weapons industry, a fact which The Times did not disclose.

After more snide remarks about Breedlove’s links to the defense industry, Clifton observes,

Breedlove may genuinely believe that a direct military confrontation with Russia, and the heightened risk of nuclear war, is necessary, but his downplaying the risks of boots on the ground dovetails nicely with his consulting work for industry interests  that stand to benefit from increased U.S and European defense spending.

Breedlove served in the Air Force from 1977 to 2016. His last job, from May 13, 2013 – May 4, 2016, was as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe—NATO’s commanding general. It seems reasonable to believe that he has a pretty good idea of the risk-reward calculus with regard to the placement of NATO troops in Ukraine and the potential for escalation.

I don’t have time this morning to recount his views on Russia and Ukraine from before he was on any of the boards in question but a simple Google search for “Philip Breedlove Ukraine” time-limited from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2015, the most intense period surrounding Russia’s 2014 invasion and well before he would have been lining up post-retirement gigs, will reveal that he was rather adamant about the need to bolster Ukraine’s capability and about the evils that Putin was committing. And that was when he was constrained in his expression because he was subordinate to the Obama administration’s policy decisions.

As I’ve noted in this space many times over the years, I think we don’t go far enough in limiting the ability of general and flag officers—and other senior officials—to cash in on their service once they return to the private sector. But the rules are what they are and, with defense companies clamoring to throw money at retired four-stars to join their boards, it’s really hard to blame Breedlove and others for saying Yes.

Absent pretty compelling evidence to the contrary, though, it’s just outrageous to claim that Breedlove is lobbying to put NATO troops in harm’s way, much less blithely risking nuclear armageddon, because he’s trying to sell some rockets. Indeed, Clifton doesn’t even demonstrate that any of the companies Breedlove consults for even make rockets. It’s just cheap inuendo.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s just cheap inuendo.

    Same shit, different day.

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    I see a lot of this sort of criticism of our policy in Ukraine with ad hominems against the players. The TAC guys’ redline against Russia apparently lies somewhere west of the UK, perhaps west of San Francisco. There is a legitimate case to be made against our policy and against The Blob based on groupthink and risk assessment, but conservatives never seem to make it.

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  3. Scott says:

    It is a cheap attack. Defense firms want retired generals to consult with them because they have expertise. All businesses want advice from people who actually know something about their businesses. All people with specific expertise want to sell that expertise to businesses that need it.

    There should be more of it. We have too many corporations being run by finance guys and other Masters of the Universe from Goldman Sachs, hedge funds, etc. and ruining those companies. Boeing, ATT, Sears are prime examples.

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  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    It’s kind of o/t, but when I hear the name “Breedlove” I always think of this guy.

  5. CSK says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    Me too.

  6. Barry says:

    @gVOR08: “The TAC guys’ redline against Russia apparently lies somewhere west of the UK, perhaps west of San Francisco.”

    Rod Dreher is a flat-out Putinist.

  7. Steve says:

    Innuendo? Italian proctoscope.

    Steve

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  8. ChrisB says:

    “Absent pretty compelling evidence to the contrary, though, it’s just outrageous to claim that Breedlove is lobbying to put NATO troops in harm’s way, much less blithely risking nuclear armageddon, because he’s trying to sell some rockets.”

    So he is just lobbying to put NATO troops in harm’s way just because? And that is better? He is just doing what they hired him to do.

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  9. just nutha says:

    Guess I have to stake the minority position alone (not a first for me, btw). Don’t care who cashes in how on their public service anymore (even less than Dr. Joyner who at least objects to the principle–about which I no longer care), but I will note that people in the situation of Breedlove would be wise to be transparent about who pays them for what services.

    Then again, I also give some credence to the argument that the “industrial base” of the US has been so gutted during my lifetime that our principal industrial activity probably is making and selling weapons systems. I agree that the argument doesn’t apply here (and Breedlove’s position is dangerous outside of vested interest considerations), but it’s still wiser to make the accusation a nothingburger (or at least a nothingmuchburger). Thus, transparency.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @ChrisB:

    So he is just lobbying to put NATO troops in harm’s way just because? And that is better? He is just doing what they hired him to do.

    He’s arguing for humanitarian support for Ukraine in a part of the country where there are no Russian troops. Which provides zero money to the companies on whose boards he sits.

    @just nutha:

    I will note that people in the situation of Breedlove would be wise to be transparent about who pays them for what services.

    Most of the linkages Clifton Aha!’s over were literally from Breedlove’s LinkedIn.

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  11. JustAGirl says:

    This is like the Platonic Ideal of a James Joyner post.

    Learned helplessness. “This thing is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. But it is and I can’t do anything about it. La-la-la!”

    Indignation at lack of deference to his peer group. You should have as much trust in Breedlove as you do that all of the DOZENS of former intelligence officials who claimed Hunter’s laptop was “Russian disinformation” were all making the same good faith mistake.

    Avoiding the actual issue, namely that someone is being presented to viewers as an independent thinker and not informing them about his financial connection to the issue at hand.

    Missing the bigger picture, which is how our public discourse is fatally contaminated by this sort of behavior.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JustAGirl:
    I’m curious: What effect do you think Hunter’s laptop would have on anything? You do realize Hunter – unlike Ivanka and Jared – was not in government, right? It’s irrelevant. It won’t reverse Trump’s staggering loss in 2020. It won’t make January 6 disappear. It won’t force trans people back into the closet or make schools lie about race to cover the hurt feefees of White folks. It’s a nothingburger. No one gives a shit because it is no more relevant than Don Jr.’s obvious drug habit.

    Tell you what, though, I have a proposal: get DJT to take a drug test and Jared and Ivanka to reveal their bank accounts and I will wholeheartedly endorse your asinine obsession with Hunter’s Holy Grail Laptop.

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott:

    All businesses want advice from people who actually know something about their businesses.

    Well, not all. Some hire Devin Nunes.

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  14. DK says:

    @JustAGirl:

    You should have as much trust in Breedlove as you do that all of the DOZENS of former intelligence officials who claimed Hunter’s laptop was “Russian disinformation” were all making the same good faith mistake.

    Mmm hmm. And how much trust should I put in conservative concern trolls who think repeating “Hillary’s emails” and “Hunter’s laptop” ad nauseum will convince me these are gravely corrupt national security threats, when the right has yet to utter a word against the Saudi government’s $2 billion Jared Kushner bribe?

    Or against Drama Queen Donnie writing love letters to communist North Korea, illegally denying Ukraine military aid to blackmail Zelensky and weaken NATO on Putin’s behalf, and paying $200,000 to the China Communist Party while evading US taxes?

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @JustAGirl:

    You should have as much trust in Breedlove as you do that all of the DOZENS of former intelligence officials who claimed Hunter’s laptop was “Russian disinformation” were all making the same good faith mistake.

    Are you saying it wasn’t? Are you saying that we understand both the provenance of the laptop and the data on it, along with the chain of custody?

    Because that is a rather bold claim, when we know that the Russian government has been directly interfering with out elections in the past, and they have used those specific techniques to discredit their foreign adversaries and as pretext to jail their domestic opposition.

    Mysterious laptop surfacing on the far right, being boosted by Q adjacent folks who dabble in mainstreaming conspiracy theories? Yeah, that should not be taken as anything reputable.

    Missing the bigger picture, which is how our public discourse is fatally contaminated by this sort of behavior.

    The Republicans poisoned the well when they embraced conspiracy theories about Vincent Foster and have continued for decades with increasingly unhinged claims. Roughly 40% of America will believe nothing they say. Which means that the Clinton’s get away with hiring Hunter Biden to kill Seth Rich or whatever you think is going on.

    It’s a shame, because if Bill was taking trips to Epstein’s pedophile island, and there was credible evidence of him partaking in or knowing of the abuse of underaged girls (or boys), it would be nice to see his skanky ass in jail.

    Meanwhile, the Republicans turn a blind eye to corruption in their own party.

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  16. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    He’s arguing for humanitarian support for Ukraine in a part of the country where there are no Russian troops.

    He’s been arguing for a lot more than that. He was an early booster of the idea of a NATO guaranteed No-fly zone which would mean NATO shooting down Russian planes. I’m pretty sure this NATO humanitarian mission proposal is just a way to get the camel’s nose into the tent.

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