Our generation is still scarred by the Vietnam experience,” said General Barry McCaffrey. The former commanding officer of the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry division, presently the director of National Drug Control Policy, was addressing friends and trustees of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Meeting in the majestic chambers of the U.S. Library of Congress, the VVMF and Chief Executive reassembled the organization and CEOs who served in the military during the Vietnam War to continue the dialogue begun when CE first brought Vietnam Vet CEOs together in our pages (CE: Dec. ’97, “No Trumpets, No Drums”). In this and subsequent gatherings, CEOs who served in the military found a forum in which to share leadership lessons learned.
Business leaders who served in the military during this divisive conflict are quick to point out that the value of the memorial and the organization which seeks to educate the public is not in the glorification of war but in the reminder not to neglect the lessons that follow from it.
Chief among these lessons is teamwork born out of a development of mutual trust. “I saw that over and over again,” says New York Life’s Mike Nocera. “The team leader, by developing trust, builds a team of leaders, making it possible for everyone to succeed.” Held in partnership with Universal Express, whose CEO, Richard Altomare, is a former Marine Vietnam vet, this year’s gathering called upon another Vietnam veteran, Sen. John McCain, who was shot down over North Vietnam and spent five and a half years as a POW, to discuss current leadership challenges in foreign policy, including the conflict arising over the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Sen. John McCain: Last week the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The President and the Vice President and other Administration officials have subjected the American people to an extraordinary barrage of propaganda. But the most serious and most dishonest of their charges is that the defeat of the treaty is the most recent example of the extreme partisanship of the Republicans.
I, along with many of my Republican colleagues, have on dozens of occasions proved that the old adage that politics should stop at the water’s edge still holds some relevance in the Clinton era. On Kosovo, Bosnia, Vietnam, NAFTA, the WTO, and many other serious international questions, I’ve sided in large part with the Administration over the opposition of some Republicans, as have any number of Republican members of Congress. I cannot say that partisanship does not influence some of our opposition to Administration policies. However, to the extent that national security issues have been overly politicized in recent months, the President, who too often has conducted a poll-tested, photo-op foreign policy, deserves much, if not most, of the blame. And that is most certainly the explanation for the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Let’s be clear. This treaty was bad for the U.S. The fact that it would have prevented us from ever testing the safety and reliability of our nuclear defenses was reason enough to insist that the treaty at least be reviewed and reratified every several years. Moreover, we lack the technological capability at the present time to verify a compliance for the test ban. That’s another argument for delaying this treaty at least until technology catches up to the treaty’s purpose.
Most absurd is the President’s argument that countries like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea will now feel free to pursue their nuclear ambitions. When have they not felt free? Rogue states will act in what their leaders perceive as the best interests of their regimes. These leaders are highly unlikely to restrain their ambitions out of respect for the arms control opinions of what is euphemistically called “the world community.”
Indeed, none of these countries had joined the CTBT nor are they likely to. But even if they had, their word is worth virtually nothing. North Korea was busy building nuclear weapons even though it was a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty. Other nuclear states, Pakistan and India, have not signed the CTBT and can also be expected to act in what their leaders perceive as their national interest. The Administration was caught flat-footed when India tested but strongly warned Pakistan not to follow suit-but to no avail.
Equally absurd is the suggestion that the most recent military coup in Pakistan is an example that things might happen in the absence of Senate ratification of an arms control agreement. The military has ruled Pakistan for half its history. As the world’s leading democracy, we should support the restoration of civilian rule in Pakistan but we should not automatically assume that the new regime will engage in nuclear brinksmanship with India. And the idea that the CTBT would have somehow affected tensions in the subcontinent is laughable. We surely have an interest in helping prevent a fourth Indian- Pakistani war. It is conceivable that such a war could go nuclear. The CTBT would have done precisely nothing to prevent that.
We should, as we have only in recent months, encourage a relaxation of tensions, especially with regard to the Kashmir flashpoint. The Administration ignored this problem until India and Pakistan tested. And as we urge the early restoration of democracy in Pakistan, we should do what we can to ensure the current military regime be moderate in its approach to its neighbor. Early indications are that it might be more moderate than its democratic predecessor. Already they have announced troop pullbacks from the border. We should not isolate Pakistan but encourage it to be pro-Western and reject Iran-style fundamentalism or Afghani chaos.
Let’s not repeat the mistake of imposing the same kind of counterproductive sanctions we did after Pakistan tested. Again, the CTBT has nothing to do with developments in the Asian subcontinent and the Administration’s hints that it does threaten the formulation of a serious policy to address instability there. The CTBT was a flawed arms control agreement, not a referendum on the U.S. role in the world. Internationalism is not just about U.N. debts, foreign aid, and multilateral arms agreements. Internationalism is recognizing that our interests and values are at stake globally and acting to secure them.
The CTBT would not have done a thing to protect our interests or advance our values. Indeed, it would have placed them at greater risk. That’s the reason that committed Republican internationalists from Henry Kissinger to Jean Kirkpatrick to Richard Luger opposed it. Faced with the choice of rejecting or accepting it, Senate Republicans chose a politically difficult course of rejecting it and by so doing put the national interest over our immediate political interest. I am proud we did. I admit I would have preferred that we spare the President the international embarrassment of rejecting the centerpiece of his second-term foreign policy. I would have preferred that we not vote at all on the treaty.
If the Vice President sincerely wants to enhance the treaty’s prospects in the future he should think about debating its merits rather than disparaging the modus of its opponents. That’s why I challenged him to debate me on the subject. Only through fair and open discourse and not through 30-second attack ads will the American public learn if their security would have been enhanced or endangered by ratification of the treaty. Only then would they learn the importance of the U.S. leadership in the world and just who is genuinely committed to enhancing that leadership. We must restore what characterized the conduct of American national security policy from 1945 up until several years ago and that is a commitment that U.S. interests come first and partisan interests come second.
John Woods (Woods Peacock Engineering Consultants): Could you address briefly the circumstances in which the U.S. should be deploying forces overseas and have we diluted our effect by being in too many places at once?
McCain: That’s the No. 1 question and challenge that faces us in the next century. Obviously, if we were any other nation in the world, realpolitik would rule and therefore it would be incredibly easy for us to make our decisions based on U.S. interests.
But we are also driven, as we should be, by Wilsonian principles, so the answer has to be, where our interest and our values are at risk. But there also has to be an important corollary to that, which is where we can beneficially affect the outcome of the situation.
I think all of us in this room grieved when we heard of hundreds of thousands of people being slaughtered in Rwanda. We as a Judeo-Christian principled nation would have liked to have stopped that and prevent it from ever happening again. But I’ve yet to meet a single expert who can tell me how we could have been officially affected by that situation. We had an experience in Haiti in the 1920s, as you might remember; we sent the Marines there for a long time. But we didn’t do any good for Haiti when we sent the Marines there before, and then we decided to send them again, 20,000 of them. We spent a couple of billion dollars of the taxpayer’s money and arguably Haiti is worse off from the experience than they were before we went there. So this corollary I was talking about is of utmost importance.
Now, what about Kosovo? We stumbled into Kosovo; there’s no way that Milosevic could have signed a Rambouillet agreement because it called for U.N. and NATO presence in his country. Politically, he couldn’t have stood. Then, on the night that the bombing began, our Secretary of State said on the “Lehrer News Hour,” “We’ll only be there for a few days,” misinterpreting the results of the Bosnia experience, which was not just because of U.S. bombing but because the Croatians had just beaten the daylights out of the Serbs on the ground.
So we stumbled into a conflict where, because the decisions were driven by polls rather than principles, we ended up flying our pilots around at 15,000 feet so we could be absolutely assured that none would be shot down, because the pollsters told the President that we couldn’t take American casualties, thereby causing the pilots to drop bombs inaccurately, killing innocent civilians. I don’t get that morality.
I soundly reject the morality or standard that says we’re willing to sacrifice innocent civilian lives, no matter whose they may be, in return for the protection of American lives.
A lot of us in this room served professionally. We know our job is, from time to time, to put it on the line. That’s the nature of the profession. So in Kosovo, once the conflict began, our values and our interests were at risk. I don’t think that you can make a case-by-case basis but you certainly can have a concept of what you want the world to look like, where the threats are, where our interests and our values lie, and have a proactive foreign policy and national security policy so that you’re not constantly surprised by events that take place in various parts of the world.
I would also add, those of us in this room know what happens when you neglect, when you don’t pay attention, when you have misguided policies. God knows, those of us in this room can’t allow that experience to be repeated. That’s our obligation. It is the challenge for the next century to try to determine this framework, and how we can act within it and make sure we are proactive rather than reactive when the crises which are inevitable spring up all around the world.
J.P. Donlon (CE): Where do you differ politically with George W. Bush?
McCain: I don’t know. And I don’t mean that in a derisory fashion. I am not sure of a lot of Governor Bush’s political positions. I know those will be made clear as the campaign goes on. Obviously, we’ve had some differences. But I think those differences will become more apparent as the campaign goes on. But could I also point out that people will appreciate what you’ve done for your country or your state. But I think the reason why they vote for you or will support you for president is your articulation of a vision for the future of the country. My dear and close and wonderful friend John Glenn was not President of the not in only showing us his credentials as United States because John had difficulty an American hero, which he was and is, but his ability to articulate a vision for the future of the country. I think, really, that’s what the debate is going to be all about, because that’s what I think the voters make judgments on. Yes, there will be comparisons drawn. But the major comparison is the person in New Hampshire and South Carolina and California can say this is the man or woman that I can trust with my future and that of my children.
A WHO’S WHO OF PARTICIPANTS
Richard A. Altomare is chairman, president, and chief executive of Plainview, NY-based Universal Express. He served in the U.S. Marines from 1969 to 1975 as a Captain with Communications/Intelligence.
Jules J. Bonavolonta is vice chairman of Washington, DC-based MBNA America. He served more than six years with the U.S. Special Forces (Green Berets), including service in Vietnam.
Marshall N. Carter is chairman and chief executive of Boston-based State Street Bank and Trust. He served two years in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine Corps officer.
Charles W. “Bin” Dyke is president and chief executive of Washington, DC-based International Technology and Trade Associates. He served more than 34 years with the U.S. Army, including 33 months in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division.
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is co-chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Corporate Council. He served in Vietnam as an infantry squad leader with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division, 1968.
Nathan Kantor is president and chief operating officer of New York City-based WinStar Communications. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force.
James V. Kimsey is co-chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Council, president of the Kimsey Foundation, and chairman emeritus of America Online. He served two combat tours in Vietnam as a Captain with the U.S. Army from 1965-66 and 1968- 69.
Richard B. Lieb is president of the Systems and Services Division of Wayne, PA-based SEI Investments. He served in Vietnam with the U.S. Marines as a platoon commander and battalion intelligence officer, 1970-71.
Frederic v. Malek is chairman of Washington, DC-based Thayer Capital Partners. He served in Vietnam from 1960-61, with the rank of First Lieutenant.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a presidential candidate, is in his third term in the Senate. He served a 22-year U.S. Navy career, and spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Robert S. Morrison is chairman, president, and chief executive of Chicago-based Quaker Oats Co. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1963 to 1967, rising to the rank of Captain.
Phillip P. Rooney is vice chairman and chief operating officer of Downers Grove, IL-based ServiceMaster Co. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966-69, including service as a Captain in Vietnam.
Senator John W. Warner (R-VA), a member of the Armed Services Committee, served as Under Secretary of the Navy from 1969 to 1972, and as Secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974.
Ronald J. “Zap” Zlatoper is co-chairman of Malvern, PA-based Sanchez Computer Associates. He served more than 30 years with the U.S. Navy, with his last assignment as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
VIETNAM VET CEOs REFLECT
- Phillip P. Rooney (ServiceMaster): If we’re going to have national leadership and we’re going to have vested ownership in this country, I think we’re going to have to have some method to get everybody to buy in, and ownership is a big discussion today. I think national service is certainly something that addresses the moral aspect of it. Also, recruiting is key to how the military is going to survive in the future, and so is the idea of volunteerism within the military. I was in for three years, and it changed my life dramatically and certainly can change other peoples’ lives.
- Marshall N. Carter (State Street Bank and Trust): We increasingly are being asked to fund programs in the inner city. We, like a lot of corporations, put one and a half percent of our profits into our foundation. But increasingly now, that foundation is directed away from fine arts, cultural items like the Boston Symphony and the Museum of Fine Arts, and into programs in the high schools and students. The focus is on youth and what we can do for the youth so they grow up to be a meaningful part of society.
- Richard B. Lieb (SEI Investments): We have a real aggressive program of recruiting junior officers who are getting out of the service. I think it’s incumbent upon us, and myself in particular-I spent four years in the Marines and a tour in Vietnam as a platoon commander-to really send a message about the value, about how critical it is, what it does to a person’s character, how valuable it makes them as a citizen, how valuable it makes them as a businessperson. I don’t think that’s clearly understood. I don’t think that’s articulated anymore. I think once upon a time that was perceived as a real advantage in terms of going into business, as helping you develop as a leader. With what’s going on with the Internet and the companies I think that’s getting a little obscured and we’ve got to go back to that and make it a real emphasis. So it’s a plus and a minus in terms of what it does for retention. On the other hand it’s critical and really crucial that we send a strong message to the country that that is an important factor in getting business leaders.