..the next time your kid and his band rehearse in the garage, don’t yell at them to hold down the noise, or threaten to kick them out of the house. With a little luck (and a lot of talent), they can become rock stars, and after that fizzles out, transition to a new career as defense consultants.
Don’t laugh–it could happen. In case you haven’t heard, U2’s Bono was at the Pentagon yesterday, for a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. According to DoD spokesman Geoff Morrell, the two men discussed a variety of topics during their 20-minute meeting, including U.S. plans to establish a military command for Africa:
“I think this was a chance for two people who care about the problems facing the continent of Africa to talk about their shared interest in solving those problems,” Morrell said of the meeting that was not publicized in advance.
A spokeswoman for DATA, the group co-founded by Bono to fight poverty and AIDS in Africa, said the singer had been in Washington to meet members of budget committees in Congress.
“He also met with Secretary Gates to discuss global poverty and the connection between fighting poverty and peace and stability,” Kathy McKiernan said.
While Bono has long been viewed as an “expert” on African affairs, it’s doubtful that he had any substantive discussions with Mr. Gates during short meeting. And quite frankly, we wonder if the event wasn’t a p.r. stunt (although the get-together wasn’t announced in advance), or simply a chance for Pentagon swells to meet one of their favorite rockers. At the next Pentagon press brief, someone ought to ask Dr. Gates or Geoff Morrell how many U2 CDs are in their personal collections, or if Bono signed any autographs during his visit.
On the other hand, DoD may genuinely want Bono’s expertise and advice on matters relating to Africa, to assist in the stand-up of that new command. Never mind that the Irish rocker’s “solution” for Africa–debt forgiveness and more aid–hasn’t worked very well. Putting a celebrity on a civilian advisory board is a good way to build interest for the new command. And, it couldn’t hurt in the funding department, either. Various Congressmen have also expressed admiration for Bono’s efforts in Africa, so if he’s on board with the command, then budget dollars are likely to follow.
If the Pentagon is serious about using Bono as a consultant on African issues, then he’ll need a security clearance. At one time, the notion of clearing anyone with a sex/drugs/rock-and-roll resume would have ridiculed. But in the post-modern era, that trail has already been blazed. As Gary Aldrich wrote in Unlimited Access, Top Secret clearances were granted to various Clinton staffers in the 1990s, despite personal, sexual and pharmacological practices that would disqualify mortal men and women.
And, at least one other rock star is already serving as a DoD advisor. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, a former member of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, has worked as a consultant of missile defense issues for almost 20 years. By various accounts, Mr. Baxter was among the first to suggest that the Navy’s Aegis air defense system be modified for a BMD mission. He’s also been hailed as an innovative thinker who brings a “fresh perspective” to defense matters.
In fairness, Baxter’s work has also been described in public relations terms. One defense contractor likened him to an “ambassador for missile defense to the Rolling Stone crowd.” Having observed a few of his visits to intel organizations, the description may not be totally unfair; the events usually include an autograph session, giving Mr. Baxter a chance to sign a few album covers for appreciative fans.
But Mr. Baxter is also a serious student of missile defense, with a firm grasp of the technical details associated with that enterprise. I’m not sure he lives up to that reputation as an original thinker, but watching him in Q-and-A sessions after technical briefings, Mr. Baxter doesn’t embarrass himself, either. And, he’s cleared for exceptionally sensitive material, regardless of what happened during the 1970s.
Baxter has apparently earned his spurs as a defense advisor, and Bono may be given the same opportunity with Africa Command. The strange trip from rock star to military consultant may not be so strange after all. That wailing from your kid’s garage band may be the first step on a journey to the E-Ring.