tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Friday, November 04, 2005

General offers insight into terrorist situation, leadership and more

Retired General Barry R. McCaffrey was in Minneapolis Oct. 28 speaking to a business group. McCaffrey was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command coordinating national security operations in Latin America. During a military career, he served overseas for 13 years and completed four combat tours. He commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Operation Desert Storm. At retirement, he was the most highly decorated four-star general in the U.S. Army.

From 1996 to 2001, McCaffrey served as Director of White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Today, he is an adjunct professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and is president of his own consulting firm.

I had an opportunity to interview him. Following is a transcript.

Is the United States doing a good job reducing the chances of suffering another terrorist attack?

It seems to me that we were grossly ill prepared to defend ourselves prior to 9-11. We had a decade of increasing violence against our armed forces and embassies. Yet we took no definitive action. We viewed it as a law enforcement challenge; so we would investigate, gather evidence and go to a grand jury when, in fact, we were dealing with international terrorism. We didn’t respond to it. So we ended up with 3,000 people murdered.

We are immeasurably better prepared today to defend ourselves then we were prior to 9-11. We have started to organize our borders and our ports of entry. We have a much more robust counter-intelligence program. We have taken into account the threat to our critical infrastructure. We have gained new allies in the law enforcement intelligence communities abroad. We have arrested thousands of suspects overseas and domestically. Many of them have talked, so we have a much clearer picture of who these people are. And, finally, I think the fairly robust muscular response to the initial attack on 9-11 made an impression on the seven states the State Department has accused of supporting terrorism: Afghanistan, Cuba, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. And I think they are well aware that if their fingerprints are on an operation that results in a dramatic blow to the American people, the repercussions will be direct. And so I think many of them have backed off and that they are certainly trying to act in a much more distant fashion from these threats to the American people. So I think in a macro sense, that’s were we are.

However, we are still at huge peril. There are attacks against us on a constant basis…us and our allies. Many of them have been successful. Although we have made some dramatic changes and progress in the aviation system and in our efforts to protect our nuclear power plants, we still have almost done nothing to confront some of our vulnerabilities, such as ferries, subways, train systems, and many of our bridges and tunnels. We still have to rethink some fundamental political issues. For example, we don’t have an immigration policy right now. We never had one. Until we face up to that, I think we’re to some extent involved in a charade in terms of preventing terrorists and their weapons from entering the country.

What about in the Midwest, are we safe here? We kind of think that the rest of the world doesn’t know where the Midwest is.

It’s hard is come to a beautiful city like Minneapolis and not understand that it’s also a crucial part of the economic and political fabric of the United States. So yeah, sure, the Midwest must be a target. I think we should argue that there should be priorities. The places that are most at risk are New York and Washington D.C., period. They are going to be the target of attacks multiple times in the coming twenty years -- hopefully not successful. So the extraordinary security situation that might be appropriate for the financial district on Wall Street would be inappropriate for a bank in the Midwest.
I don’t think this is target number one but I also don’t think there should be any room for complacency.

You were responsible for our efforts to protect against drug abuse. In the Midwest, in a lot the rural areas we have a big problem with meth, people manufacturing it, and so forth. Can you comment on that? What is the extent of the problem? Are there things regular folks should be doing to try to mitigate this problem?

Drug use in America peaked in 1979; it was about 14 percent of the population. Now it’s well under 7 percent. Casual cocaine use in America has gone down dramatically. Drunk driving deaths are down dramatically. Teen pregnancies, crime in America, everything that is clustered around substance abuse is immeasurably better today then in 1979. So the first thing a lot of folks will say is, we fought a war against drugs and we lost and why don’t we try something new. I don’t think it’s a war. I think it’s a cancer threatening American communities. But we clearly have changed the nature of the problem dramatically.

Of the new chemically manufactured psychoactive substances, absolutely the worst we have seen is meth. It is a blowtorch that destroys human flesh, brain function, causes enormous psychoses and turns you into a threat to your own children and to law enforcement officers. And it can happen pretty quickly. If you are a single mom, working two jobs, and taking care of three children, and you start taking meth because you like the feeling of confidence and energy it gives you, watch out. If you start off using it because you thought it would help you lose weight, and come back a year later, it is very likely you will encounter someone who is emaciated, has rotted teeth, has huge open soars on their arms and legs, has permanent irreversible organic damage to brain function and is completely psychotic.

In terms of actual addiction rate, it’s still less prevalent, by far, than other substance abuse problems. Probably just under a million Americans abuse heroin. There are probably 6 or 7 million people in the country who could be considered chronic drug abusers. A growing number are involved in meth and it’s all over the country now. It is no longer just a West Coast phenomenon or a biker gang drug.

What can ordinary people do to help? Anything?

Absolutely! I tell people if you want to fight a war on drugs, sit down at your own kitchen table and talk to your own children. There is an education function to it. We gotta make sure our children know about new drug threats as they come up. There was a widespread belief that ecstasy was harmless. Now we are reasonably confident that a significant dosage of ecstasy over time will end up causing damage to brain function. So we’ve got to educate our kids. We’ve got to tell them what meth is. We’ve got to explain to them its impact on their bodies. We have to make sure the people passing that message are the business community, the educators, coaches, and pediatricians. I think that is the most important function.

And then I think the other thing is we gotta make sure we back aggressive law enforcement action against those making meth. Half the meth made in the United States is in illegal operations all over the Midwest, all over California. We have taken a lot of measures to try to restrict the easy availability of mass quantities of the drugs that are used to manufacture it. The main thing the business community can do is to stand up behind law enforcement and make sure there’s an active drug education program in the school system. That isn’t to say we want to unload it just on the teachers. It has to be a message that is consistent from all of us.

You obviously worked around leaders; you were a leader yourself. You have seen good leaders, and bad leaders. What leadership tactics have you observed in the military that would translate into the business world?

Leadership is everything or nearly everything. It is more important than the technology you have; it’s more important than the competitive advantage that you think you have. And leadership and management go together but they are not the same thing. One of the great companies I worked with is Sikorsky Helicopters. They have a beautiful factory in Stamford, Connecticut. It’s a mile and half long production of these beautiful Blackhawk helicopters. The CEO there told me he has 6,000 employees. He said, “Look, I tell my people, if you had an option of either keeping this incredibly sophisticated, billion dollar factory and losing the workforce, or keeping the workforce and losing the entire factory -- under which of those two options would you be soonest back producing helicopters? And the answer is, a year later you would be producing Blackhawk helicopters again with those 6,000 employees. It would not be a problem. If you lost the employees and had the factory, it would be 15 years before you had another Blackhawk flying. So these are team skills. These are people skills, experience skills.

There are three aspects of leadership. One is obvious and gets talked about way too much and that’s authority. So if you are the CEO and you have 80 employees, you have hiring and firing authority, you can set compensation levels, you can send people to schooling as a reward, you can draw attention to their good work. That’s a pretty powerful tool. But it is the least important, bar none, of the levers you have on human behavior.

The second area, and one I think is important for all of us to remind ourselves in crisis situations, we know that people follow a leader’s directions because they are perceived as experts at what they do. Employees watch and they say the manager’s judgment is exquisite; if we do what he told us to do, it’s going to come out good for all of us. Then they are likely to follow your instructions. Expert power is something you can work at. You can become more credentialed, you can study, you can demonstrate to your team that you really know what you are talking about.

The final one doesn’t get talked about enough at all and that’s referent power. To what extent do I look at you, my CEO, my branch manager, and do I want to be more like you? Do I admire your character and trust you?

These are all values-based. They have nothing to do whether you can up my pay or give me a Christmas bonus. It has everything to do with character. And so if I look at you and I’m 22 and just came out of the University of Minnesota, and after about a year of watching the CEO, this woman is a servant of her employees, is a person of absolute integrity and her personal behavior matches what we have on the vision statement of the company, then my loyalty in not only to the leader but to the institution because I am glad to be part of that team.

You have been involved with the military both at a time when people were drafted and at a time when it was entirely volunteer. I am interested in your observations on the difference between the two scenarios.

I graduated from West Point in 1964. We had the draft. It was a peacetime army. And then suddenly, bang, we were in seven years of war. And so, I served in an Army that was largely 18-year-old boys who had been drafted. And I commanded a company in Vietnam in the First Calvary Division during some very intense fighting. Essentially, it was 100 percent draftees. The First Sergeant and I were the only ones in the company who were regular Army. Both of us were on our third combat tours, both wounded three times. The rest of them were 19-year-old draftees.

But if you didn’t volunteer, if you didn’t go to Canada, you ended up with what you feared most. You were in the Amy, in the infantry, and in Vietnam. And it was 100 percent draftees. They were terrific soldiers! They were just terrific!! They had a sense of dedication; they particularly didn’t believe in the war, their dad told them that they had to do the right thing. They came in and served with great skill and they served for two years.

But now you go forward to this era and our soldiers and servicemen in general come in, they will enlist for four years for college money. They are high school graduates. They have no arrest record. They see skill development. They see huge enlistment bonuses. They see Veterans’ benefits coming out the other end. They are patriotic, and huge numbers of them stay with us. So the competence, the maturity, of the Army today is unbelievably better than any time in our history. That’s not a comment on the draftees; it’s a comment on a different era. The army is better off in a volunteer status. More stability, longer service, and we will never go back to the draft. It’s just not going to happen.

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