While the United States ramps up its military operations in Afghanistan, some people are pointing out Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s relationship to defense contractor General Dynamics. President Trump has green-lit a surge of troops in the beleaguered country in hopes of getting the situation back on track. The influx of troops will also see an influx of gear, equipment, and food. This, of course, will provide a boon for contractors.
At issue here is Mattis’s close relationship to a multinational contractor. Before he jumped on board the Trump administration, Mattis received nearly $600,000 in cash and almost 1 million dollars of stocks in General Dynamics as a consultant. Since the military contractor has already received numerous federal and military contracts, it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll receive more contracts thanks to Trump’s latest surge.
This, of course, presents a conflict of interest. General Dynamics stocks have seen an uptick since Trump’s announcement. In order for the Senate to approve Mattis as the next Secretary of Defense, they made him offer certain assurances, including releasing his stocks in General Dynamics. While Mattis might not have personally benefitted from the contractors increased stock value, that doesn’t mean potential conflicts aren’t present, or even possible.
During his time as an independent director at General Dynamics, Mattis undoubtedly made connections there. It’s also possible that he developed a familiarity with how they do business. Such knowledge might subconsciously influence him to favor the military contractor. When he officially worked for the corporation, his influence with the government was minimal. Now, as Secretary of Defense, however, he’s the person in charge of overseeing defense contracts. Given his likely familiarity with General Dynamics, this position might bias him toward the contractor when considering how to dole our military contracts.
It also might affect how he implements logistics and military tactics. Will he do what’s best for the mission or will his relationship to defense contractors color his view of the military’s needs? While there’s no way to definitively answer these questions, they are worth considering. War is expensive. America has spent hundreds of billions in its 16-year adventure in Afghanistan. One result of this long war is the redistribution of tax dollars to private corporations. Any decision Mattis makes—whether it’s strategic, tactical, or logistical—will in part be determined by the contracts already in place.
Knowing what kind of equipment and gear the armed forces already possess, or how quickly they can acquire new equipment, could help him determine which tactics to settle on. His relationship with General Dynamics could influence his decisions. This, of course, can present problems. Mattis will understand the needs of his troops and officers, and General Dynamics is uniquely placed to receive contracts—and American tax dollars.