When Donald Trump took office, Deborah Lee James resigned from her post as Secretary of the Air Force — no doubt a gambit designed to protect her Democrat bona fides. Never mind that she continued to serve as a political appointee in Trump’s administration, illustrating that like much of what she did during her tenure as Secretary, leaving office was purely for show.
James has now taken her empty slate of principles to the private market, where she can at least get rich embracing nihilism while wrapping herself in the garb of faux patriotism. As first reported by The Hill, James will be appointed to the board of Textron effective July 1st. The company, which clocked more than $13B in revenue in 2015, is a prominent defense contractor that sells weapons to, among other agencies, the U.S. Air Force.
We should assume, as rational and free-thinking citizens, that Textron wants James on its board because of her expertise on how to best lobby the Air Force and Congress in order to efficiently separate taxpayers from their wallets. If this is not the reason, the mind boggles at what value the company could possibly theorize James will add.
It can’t be about her ability to lead or make decisions. James near enough ran the Air Force into the ground during her tenure, leaving it understaffed, over-tasked, and internally divided.
It can’t be about corporate responsibility or ethics. James presided over the rampant politicization and corruption of the Air Force’s justice system, which degraded into a utilitarian hunting party bent on securing convictions for any conduct with a vague sexual component — be it real or merely alleged. On her watch, airmen lost confidence that they could get a fair trial, and with good reason. On her watch, toxic commanders who actually deserved a trial consistently swerved justice, many of them promoted for political loyalty.
It can’t be about her aviation expertise. James was humiliated on this score in her first appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee as Air Force Secretary and never improved on that obviously wanting performance. Despite spending billions of taxpayer dollars touring the service, she never developed a grasp of airpower. Those who interacted with her first-hand attest consistently that there was no real effort to do so.
This leaves only her lobbying potential, which is actually quite limited if the law is followed. As a former “very senior” official, she is prohibited from making an appearance or communication with the intent to influence the agency where she worked for two years from the date she left her position — meaning she cannot actively lobby the Air Force until January of 2019. This, of course, doesn’t mean she’ll refrain from lobbying. It’s an open secret in Washington that no one obeys revolving door restrictions and no one polices them.
Assuming she will lobby, there are good reasons for Textron to recruit James. The company is competing two of its platforms — the AT-6 and the Scorpion (a joint venture with AirLand LLC) against the A-29 for a prospective Air Force procurement contract. The conceit of the competition is to replace the A-10 with a new low-cost-per-copy close air support platform … thereby reducing the cost of a mission set the Air Force says is overpriced due to the age of its existing technology.
This is, of course, pure nonsense. The A-10 is uber capable and far cheaper than any of the alternatives. But as an established enemy of the A-10 who is indifferent to the true value of close air support as well as a highly capable zampolit and political commissar of the first order, James is an ideal lobbyist for this particular money grab.
The noticeable stench of this mess is unfortunately familiar as the mark of revolving door opportunism in the military-industrial greed-plex that was once a thriving defense establishment. The last several Air Force secretaries have been hacks with zero airpower knowledge. They’ve been drawn from bureaucratic gene pools and been just the sorts of people we would expect to take lobbying positions after checking the political square with a patronage job. Debbie James represents exactly what we have wrought. She’s the perfect reflection of a feckless and rotten system by, for, and on behalf of the sickeningly self-interested.
James’s leadership “team” has now been fully co-opted, with Gen. Mark Welsh joining the board at Northrup-Grumman while former CMSAF James Cody is reportedly a paid mouthpiece for Lockheed. Quelle surprise!
Meanwhile, the nation’s defense marches on … provided by airmen whose judgments are unclouded by petty politics and unhampered by self-obsession. They do the job because it needs done. They deserved better from James when she had the chance to help, and they certainly deserve better than to be distracted by her continued meddling now that the nightmare is allegedly over.