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General McChrystal’s New Job: Dig a Bit, Please

Aug 19, 2010 by

Categories: Deep Politics

Did you happen to see how fast General Stanley McChrystal landed on his feet after President Obama fired him for insubordination? In a now-famous Rolling Stone article, the then-commander of US troops in Afghanistan expressed contempt for Obama and Vice President Biden, and a generally profane manner regarding just about everyone.

But practically no time at all passed between his firing and his being offered an attractive post at one of America’s top universities.

Thus far, we haven’t seen much digging into this, and we aren’t personally equipped to look into everything, but certainly, some avenues of inquiry present themselves. For one thing, what is the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, the Yale-based center which just hired McChrystal? Its declared mission is to provide tutelage to students aspiring to public and international service. Which raises a question: in what way is General McChrystal an obvious choice for this role?

Such curious judgment raised the further question: Why was the Institute created? Some quotes from the student newspaper at Yale, the Yale Daily News:

“The Jackson Institute will take us a quantum leap forward,” said Ian Shapiro, director of the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and Sterling Professor of Political Science.

Shapiro, who helped design the Institute, said Yale has previously had a smaller faculty studying global affairs than universities such as Princeton, Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown.

Who is Ian Shapiro? Someone should carefully read his writings, including Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror, Princeton University Press 2007 ISBN 0-691-12928-2

Shapiro is co-chair of the executive committee of the Future of American Democracy Foundation. According to the site http://thefutureofamericandemocracyfoundation.org/ABio.html

The Future of American Democracy Foundation, the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, and Yale University Press have joined together as partners in a major new project aimed at sustaining and renewing the historic vision of American democracy. The project is enlisting some of America’s best policy minds to address the full range of domestic and foreign policy issues the United States confronts in the years ahead. The project aims to develop a new, more balanced paradigm for American policymaking, one that can form the basis of a centrist consensus, uniting citizens around common aims and purposes that will genuinely meet the challenges before us.”

Creating a centrist consensus? Is hiring General McChrystal to impart his ideas to America’s next generation of best and brightest a means of doing that? These are not rhetorical questions. They’re the sort of serious issues that a good editor would assign a good reporter to probe.

Even a cursory glance shows that the group forming at Yale is hardly what we’d think of as promoting either centrism or democracy. Other hires at the Center and/or associated institutions at Yale, according to the local paper, the New Haven Register, is John Negroponte. A longtime DC national security fixture, he played a prominent role in the stewardship of the Vietnam War. In the 1980s, he was the Reagan administration’s de facto manager of the illegal Contra war from his perch as ambassador to Honduras—during a period when human rights violations were standard procedure and a US-trained Honduran battalion kidnaped, tortured and executed hundreds. George W. Bush made Negroponte his UN ambassador, from where he led the diplomatic offensive in favor of invading Iraq—replete with the intimidation of allies and false claims about weapons of mass destruction. He later served as ambassador to Iraq, and as Bush’s first intelligence czar. Still another figure in this emerging Yale operation is James Woolsey, former CIA director, who was a leading proponent of the Iraq invasion well before 9/11 as an original signatory to the 1998 Project for the New American Century letter to President Clinton, and later worked for the key Iraqi group lobbying for US action. He is at the epicenter of the neoconservative movement.

All of which begs the question, who is paying for all this? The man who donated $50 million to create the Institute is John W. Jackson:

“We felt that strengthening the international relations and international studies efforts at Yale was something that was important given the world situation,” Jackson said in a telephone interview over the weekend.

What did that mean? Why is it important that Yale in particular do more in this area? And what “world situation” does he see as especially urgent? There are always problems and challenges in the world. What informs this decision?

Jackson, who said he had the intention to become a diplomat when entering Yale, is the chairman of his family’s Liana Foundation, an organization that donates money to various charities, including schools. Jackson’s great-grandfather was a diplomat, he said, and Jackson would have become one as well had he not joined the Marines to serve in the Vietnam War after graduating from Yale.

Who was Jackson’s great-grandfather? If worth mentioning that this is a diplomatic family, it’s worth knowing more about the values and mindset. Is it perhaps revealed by Jackson’s having joined the Marines during the Vietnam War? What if anything does this tell us about his feelings about diplomacy?

Jackson himself went into the pharmaceutical business, an industry with close, complicated ties with the US foreign policy apparatus, where he worked for the giant Merck, then ran the biopharmaceutical firm Celgene, where his stock options were apparently wildly successful, enough that he has $50 million to throw around at Yale. He doesn’t show much political sensibility, with his very few donations having been years ago, and typically to moderate Republicans like John McCain and California’s former governor Pete Wilson, a one-time presidential aspirant, plus a local Democratic congressman.

So, maybe this is just a case of someone who has done well and wants to give back to the world. But given the initial choices being made here, the least journalism can do is to dig a bit—and tell us more about these interesting alliances, hiring decisions, and huge sums of money.

We might be asking: What is the appropriate role of the money of the rich and of corporations in setting the tone and agenda at universities that shape future leaders? And what do we think informs the decision that the likes of McChrystal, Woolsey and Negroponte ought to be instructing America’s up-and-coming best and brightest?  Discuss, please.

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