I was quite amazed to see a commentary in the Friday edition of the New York Times written by Merrill A. McPeak, also known as Gen. Tony McPeak, retired chief of staff of the Air Force.
I’ve been in Washington as a radio news reporter and opinion journalist for almost 18 years. I’ve probably interviewed thousands of people and have seen the politically powerful, the political wannabes, the fallen and the ones on the way up. So when I have encountered someone who is arrogant and difficult, it sticks out in my mind.
I remember my interview with the general quite well during the Democratic National Convention of 2004. He was then a surrogate for candidate Kerry. I am known by Democrats and Republicans alike as being a fair interviewer and not given to gotcha tactics. Gen. McPeak did not like me and did not like my interview, including my questions about gays in the military. He got up and rocked the table. I then asked my Air Force friends about the general, to find out that people disliked him so much during his tenure that they left the Air Force and went into civilian life.
Gen. McPeak’s arguments in the New York Times about gays in the military focused on the issue of unit cohesion, an issue he seemed little interested in during his time, preferring instead to focus on high-cost follies.
This is the guy who is known for spending taxpayer money in ill-conceived ventures when he was chief of staff of the Air Force. Some of his more notable decisions when he was in that position include changing the uniform for military personnel. The change was despised, and after he left was quickly changed back.
He is also known for instituting total quality management in the Air Force, a technique that has been successfully used in business, but in the form he instituted was not suited to Air Force structure. Quickly, his total quality management became known not at TQM but as “To Quote McPeak.” There was an even worse name for it, but I’m not going to put it in print. Many in the Air Force believe that this cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, although I’ve not seen any studies backing this.
Next, Gen. McPeak came up with an idea to create a bonus for pilots but make them sign up for an additional five years. Many of those who did not sign up for the bonus could not fly and found themselves in desk jobs in the Air Force. An interesting analysis of this and other management decisions by Gen. McPeak was written by William J. Dalonzo for the Air Command and Staff College in 1999. He titled his paper “McPeak’s Follies, A Comprehensive Look at Rates Management in the 90s.” In another management decision, Dalonzo says, “In just four days McPeak created a pilot bank which would grow to encompass 1,100 deferred pilots.”
It wasn’t enough that McPeak caused so many problems in the Air Force. He also signed up to be one of then-candidate Obama’s military advisers. I had the opportunity during the campaign to say to Susan Rice that Gen. McPeak was going to be a big mistake. She dismissed my comments, but shortly after, McPeak got himself in some trouble on the campaign trail. Gen. McPeak, referring to Hillary Clinton, said that Obama doesn’t go on television and have crying fits. It was then that some of his more notable quotations were found. He had said that if things would work right, we would be in Iraq for a century, and he also said that we should not hope for a democratic Iraq (the Oregonian).
Another interview was dug up where he inferred Jewish influence on American policy, saying that “we have a large vote, New York City, Miami … and no politician wants to run against it.” Needless to say, McPeak’s dreams of getting a big Obama administration job did not come true. But like many of these guys he is now resurfacing, commenting on what would work well in the military when he couldn’t make the military work well.
As his arguments in the New York Times on gays in the military focused on unit cohesion, perhaps he should stay with that issue. He ought to know about cohesion in the military because he probably most single-handedly increased unit cohesion when he was in charge. The cohesion was a force like no other against his policies.