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Ret. Gen. James Mattis

Then Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis listens during his confirmation hearing on July 27, 2010 in Washington, DC. Mattis ultimately became commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), later served as Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump, and took a seat as a board member for weapons maker General Dynamics. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

America's Loser Generals Finally Win Big... Paychecks With the Military-Industrial Complex

After leading decades of destruction and devastation abroad in which victory was always "just around the corner," top U.S. military brass doing just fine with lucrative careers in the profitable war-making industry.

Tom Engelhardt

Yes, four-star General Lloyd Austin commanded American forces in Iraq back in 2010 and 2011. In 2013, he took over from General James Mattis (remember him?) as the head of United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, overseeing America’s wars in the Greater Middle East and Afghanistan (where he had earlier commanded troops himself). Retiring from the Army in 2016, he promptly joined the board of directors of weapons giant Raytheon Technologies. When he became secretary of defense for President Biden and divested himself of his Raytheon shares, it was estimated that he had made $1.7 million from that company alone and he was then believed to be worth $7 million. As for James Mattis, who had left the U.S. military to become a board member for another major weapons maker, General Dynamics, he was believed to be worth $10 million when he came out of retirement as Donald Trump’s secretary of defense.

And all of that turns out to be pretty standard for the losing military commanders of our war-on-terror years. As Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post discovered, having been a commander in one or more of America’s failed wars of this century generally proved an all-too-lucrative calling card in the military-industrial complex. “The eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018,” he wrote, “have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards.” Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the famed (and disastrous) “surge” in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, was on a record 10 of those (and was known to have been paid a million dollars by just one of them). He would even form the McChrystal Group, which, as Peter Maass pointed out recently at the Intercept, “has more than 50 employees and provides consulting services to corporate and government clients.”

Do you remember how, in all those years commanding troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s generals regularly saluted our remarkable progress there and no less regularly insisted that the U.S. military had “turned a corner” in each country? As early as 2004 in Iraq, for instance, Major General Charles Swannack, Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, claimed “that we’ve turned that corner. I can also tell you that we are on a glide path towards success.” In 2010, General McChrystal would similarly claim that the U.S. had “turned the corner” in Helmand Province in the embattled poppy-producing southern heartland of Afghanistan. In 2017, General John Nicholson, then the U.S. commander there, would stare cheerily into the future, saying: “Now, looking ahead to 2018, as [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani said, he believes we have turned the corner and I agree.” And so it went, year after year after year.

As it happened, it was all fantasy. Only when America’s generals retired and stepped through that infamous “revolving door” of the military-industrial complex did things change. I think you could say accurately, in fact, that that was the moment when each of them finally “turned a corner” triumphantly. As retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore just wrote, we have a military in which the losses are all on the battlefield and the gains in Congress as well as in the very military-industrial complex which only continues to soar like a missile in a moment when so many other parts of this society are sinking fast. 

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