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In the past few months there has been a rash of media reports on the Carlyle Group, a private equity investment group with billions of dollars of assets in the defense industry and a roster of directors and consultants which includes not only well-known Reagan and Bush appointees but also international figures like John Major, […]

The Strange Career of Frank Carlucci

by Francis Schor

In the past few months there has been a rash of media reports on the Carlyle Group, a private equity investment group with billions of dollars of assets in the defense industry and a roster of directors and consultants which includes not only well-known Reagan and Bush appointees but also international figures like John Major, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Fidel Ramos, the former President of the Philippines.

The Chairman of the Carlyle Group, Frank Carlucci, was not only a former Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration, but a Deputy Director of the CIA during the Carter Administration. In fact, Carlucci’s career in Washington provides some insight into the intersection between foreign and domestic policy in the Cold War years. Moreover, Carlucci’s particular trajectory through the government and into private industry reveals much about the meaning and influence of the military-industrial complex in the past and continuing policies of the United States at home and abroad. A critical part of Carlucci’s career was spent as a foreign service officer during the 1950′s and 1960′s in such hot spots as the Congo and Brazil. He capped that foreign service career with a stint as Ambassador to Portugal from 1974-77, a key time in the history and development of the Portuguese revolution. Carlucci’s navigation through these conflictual moments helps to situate the nuances of US cold war policies not only in these specific countries, but throughout the world. As the Second Secretary in the US Embassy in the Congo during the time of the reign and consequent assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Carlucci was intimately involved in the US efforts to overthrow Lumumba’s government. In the recent cinematic reconstruction of the life and times of the Congo’s first elected prime minister, Lumumba by Haitian director, Raoul Peck, Carlucci is depicted as being part of a meeting of US, Belgian, and Congo officials plotting the murder of Lumumba. Claiming that this particular meeting was fabricated by the filmmaker, Carlucci did admit at a Washington premier of the film that US policy towards the Lumumba government was a bit “too strident.”

The fact that CIA station chief Lawrence Devlin was under direct instructions from Secretary of State Dulles to seek the immediate removal of Lumumba is part of the historical record. There is even evidence to suggest that the actual hit on Lumumba came from the White House at Eisenhower’s suggestion. In fact, there was an assassin hired by the US government, equipped with chemical weapons from Ft. Detrick, to use against Lumumba. When Lumumba was captured in December 1960 after fleeing from house arrest by a former supporter and later vicious dictator of the Congo, Colonel Joseph Mobutu, the CIA probably helped to arrange for Lumumba’s transfer to Katanga province where Katangan and Belgian henchman murdered Lumumba and disposed of his body.

Meanwhile, Carlucci was attempting to placate Lumumba supporters and draw them into a new coalition government. In the confusions that ensued, Carlucci found himself under house arrest and at odds with Clare Timberlake, the US Ambassador to the Congo who did not favor any involvement with Lumumba supporters. Fortunately for Carlucci, Timberlake was relieved of his ambassadorial post and replaced by Kennedy appointees whose liberal politics allowed for certain compromises with indigenous forces in Africa who might still serve the anti-communist alliance while facilitating US economic interests in the region. Although Carlucci wasn’t around for the mess that followed in the wake of UN intervention and the continuing zigs and zags of US policy in the Congo, he did wind up in Brazil in time for the overthrow of the Goulart government. The CIA and State Department were actively engaged in funneling money to opponents of Goulart and setting the stage for the eventual military coup in March and April of 1964.

Beyond his populist policies that threatened nationalization of US subsidies, Goulart was seen by Washington as “soft on communism” and “pro-Castro,” indictments enough to spell his doom and put in place right-wing military dictators who would outlaw any political or union dissent for years. As a consequence of the military coup and its entrenchment, Carlucci gained a reputation as a “tough-guy” with the American Defense Attach? in Brazil, Colonel Vernon Walters. By the end of the 1960s Carlucci had returned to Washington to become part of Nixon Administration, going from the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1969-71 to the Office of Management and Budget in 1971-72. He then was appointed Under Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1972-74. Among the other key members of these departments of domestic pacification were Caspar Weinberger, who was a Carlucci mentor, and Donald Rumsfeld, a former college buddy and wrestling mate from Princeton. Both Weinberger and Rumsfeld would later become, as would Carlucci, Secretaries of Defense. The bureaucratic imperatives honed in these cabinet positions would further underscore the primacy of military Keynesianism in governmental policy. After so many positions as an underling and gray bureaucrat, Carlucci burst onto the explosive stage of post-revolutionary Portugal as Ambassador. With the approval of CIA Deputy Director Vernon Walters and Henry Kissinger, Carlucci began immediately to ferret out potential communist sympathizers among the left-leaning young military officers who helped foment the revolutionary coup in Portugal in 1974.

However, unlike Kissinger, Carlucci was willing to work with Socialist Mario Soares not out of any sympathy for Soares’ politics, but because from Carlucci’s perspective Soares was the “only game in town” to prevent the most militant leftists from assuming power in Portugal. Carlucci managed to convince President Ford of his approach by working directly through Rumsfeld who was, at the time, the White House chief of staff. Carlucci’s pay-off came when Soares won the Presidency in 1976, cementing ties with NATO and instituting IMF approved austerity measures. Such successful machinations in Portugal earned Carlucci a position as Deputy Director of the CIA in the Carter Administration from 1978-1981. When insurgent forces in Iran and Nicaragua in 1979 toppled the Shah and Somoza dictatorships, Carlucci and the CIA had little ability to control the upheavals even though there were various clandestine efforts to thwart the revolutionary forces in these countries. On the other hand, the CIA certainly played a significant role in sponsoring anti-Soviet Mujaheddin, perhaps even suckering the Soviets into their disastrous campaign in Afghanistan. Carlucci then made the transition to a procurer of new weapons as Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration under Caspar Weinberger from 1981-83. During this time, in response to wide-spread criticism of Pentagon waste and mismanagement, Carlucci developed proposals (known as the “Carlucci Reforms”) to rationalize the process of weapons procurement. However, Carlucci’s policies did not lower costs. They did, apparently, offer new start-up companies the opportunity to get involved in DoD pork, something that the Carlyle Group would take advantage of later on. After a brief departure into the world of private business at Sears World Trade from 1983-86, Carlucci returned to become first an Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs in 1987. He then went on to become Secretary of Defense later than year until his resignation in 1989 when he went to work for the Carlyle Group. As Secretary of Defense he worked closely with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and particularly the Chairman, Admiral William Crowe, Jr. (Crowe is now a chief stock-holder of the parent company of BioPort, the recently FDA approved monopoly holder of an anthrax vaccine. The Carlyle Group also apparently has stock holdings in Crowe’s company.) While overseeing some cutbacks in the DoD, particularly military bases in the US, Carlucci was committed to expanding certain military appropriations in the area of new technology as a way of strengthening the US national security state and expanding NATO. Although willing to compromise with Congress on the Strategic Defense Initiative (encountering in the process a rebuke from Reagan), Carlucci maintained a determined stance of US supremacy in nuclear arms and nuclear-war-fighting capability. While outside of government in the 1990′s, Carlucci managed to circulate on the boards of various think-tanks, e.g. the RAND Corporation, and help promulgate reports on national security and defense that urged increases in defense spending and the use of US military might. Nonetheless, he, along with other former Secretaries of Defense, opposed sending ground troops to Bosnia, perhaps because there were no long-term prospects for security or economic advancements. Certainly, Carlucci’s tenure at the Carlyle Group has resulted in an expanded portfolio of defense industries. Among the defense industries that Carlyle holds is United Defense, a maker of missile launch systems for the US Navy. However, Carlyle’s reach under Carlucci has expanded into a variety of new technologies in defense and non-defense industries, such as global communications.

For example, Carlyle is keen on cleaning up hazardous materials at military bases and nuclear waste. Buying firms not yet publicly traded that deal with such services, such as Duratek and EG&G, allows Carlyle to position these firms for government contracts and then cash in when they are publicly traded. Such influence-peddling is certainly not new to former government officials who use their ties to past and present administrations for private benefit. Carlucci, of course, insists that he does not importune or lobby his old buddy Don Rumsfeld. Nonetheless, the money trail from Carlyle’s portfolio to Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon is pretty evident. In one major decision by Rumsfeld, revealed by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, United Defense’s 70-ton Crusader artillery system was saved from a potential budget cut. Surely, the proposed massive increase in spending for the Pentagon by the Bush Administration will benefit the Carlyle Group. What has seemed most egregious to inquiring journalists and public interest groups has been Carlyle’s consultants, like former President Bush, whose ties to ruling elites in Saudi Arabia (including the Bin Laden family) and South Korea have resulted in lucrative holdings and investments in these countries for Carlyle. As noted by the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity: “(Former President) George Bush is getting money from private interests that have business before the government…And, in a really peculiar way, George W. Bush could, some day, benefit financially from his own administration’s decisions, through his father’s investments.” In fact, George W. benefited in the past from Carlyle by being put on the board of a Carlyle investment, Caterair, an airline-catering company during his Texas business career days. Similar to the Enron situation, the Bush family and others have enriched their careers and political fortunes with their ties to the Carlyle Group. However, this is a scandal that still hasn’t gained the attention and measures necessary to prevent its scandalous continuance.

Carlyle’s cozy relationship with DoD insiders and other power-brokers is part of Carlucci’s effective management of Carlyle. The global reach of Carlyle, while often hidden behind the veil of private investments, moreover is indicative of Carlucci’s own experience with US imperial and military policies.

Like the subject of C. Vann Woodward’s seminal study of racial oppression and exploitation in the South, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, Carlucci’s “strange” career is representative of significant other pathological imperatives in US political culture. The residual effects and on-going commitments to imperialism and militarism in US society feed such opportunistic careerists as Frank Carlucci.

Until there is a massive movement to dismantle all of the institutions and ideas that sustain US imperialism and militarism, Frank Carlucci and his ilk will continue to profit and prosper at the expense of the well-being and very lives of people here and abroad.

Francis Schor teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He can be reached at: aa2439@wayne.edu