Jeffrey LewisInappropriate Target

Mother Jones and other groups are having a lot of fun with the fact that acting NNSA Associate Administrator for Defense Nuclear Security Steven Asher (above) spent a few years after retiring from the Air Force managing a Target retail store in Spokane, Washington. (Asher’s last command, I believe, was Malmstrom Air Force Base’s 341st Security Forces Group.)

We all want NNSA to do a better job of stewarding the nation’s nuclear stockpile. But this isn’t right. I’ve learned the hard way that we are blogging and tweeting about real people. I don’t know Steven Asher or anything about him other than what I’ve read. Nor, as far as I can tell, do any of the people having fun online at his expense.

Let me make three observations about how cruel and unfair this might be.

First, some people are being really elitist.  Most of them get paid to work in nice academic or nonprofit environments.  I sometimes complain about the pay when my lawyer friends don’t pick up the tab, but I still am really, really lucky compared to everyone I grew up with.  And I emphasize luck.  There are a lot of people, especially in this economy, who find themselves unemployed in their middle age, having to work menial jobs.  Maybe it’s because I grew up without much money, or maybe it’s because I am politically as red as anyone I know, but we ought to value work and have respect for people regardless of how we perceive their social station in life. The moron who screws up your coffee at Starbucks is a human being who probably doesn’t enjoy making lattes for entitled yuppies all day long.  So is the person who manages your local Target store.

Second, other folks are laughing at this guy for putting on a red shirt and giving interviews about specials on paper towels.  I can’t imagine it was easy for a retired Air Force Colonel to swallow his pride and manage a Target.  For all we know, he has a mortgage or kids in college. For all we know, he got up every day, put on that stupid red shirt, and sucked it up to make ends meet while figuring out how to get a job that made better use of his skills.  Like the one he’s got now. If I lost my job, I wonder if I could do the same for my kids.

Third, we really don’t know why Asher found himself managing a Target.  The jokes imply he’s incompetent, but there is no evidence of that. This is a terrible economy. Moreover, a lot of veterans struggle to find civilian jobs because employers don’t understand how to read a military resume. Some of the big employers — i.e., horrible box stores — have programs to match military careers to their civilian equivalents.  It would be nice if more of the businesses I patronize made the same effort.

It would be perfectly reasonable to comment on Asher’s job performance, whether in blue or in red. Maybe he was a below-average colonel. (Half of them are, you know.)  If he’s not qualified for this job, then someone ought to explain why. So far, the best anyone can do is pointing out that his unit failed an inspection a few months after he left.  That seems like a stretch to me.

This isn’t really about Asher, of course, even though he has to endure the ridicule. Ask yourself how many blog posts you’ve seen griping about NNSA hires at the Associate Administrator level. The only reason this is a story is Asher’s resume offers a cheap way to make NNSA look foolish and incompetent.  Which, of course, government agencies are from time to time.  But it is not fair to NNSA, and it’s terribly cruel to Asher.

The whole thing just seems petty and obnoxious to me. I wish it would stop.


  1. Curious Wavefunction (History)

    After reading this piece I have to say that my admiration for Steven Asher just reached stratospheric proportions. Sure, Asher might have been forced to do this job because of circumstances, but this country has also always been (and should always be) about people for whom no job is inferior. For whatever reason, Asher now exemplifies this proud tradition.

  2. Cthippo (History)

    Hear hear, Jeffrey!

    We’ve all had crappy jobs and I agree people deserve better than to be made fun of because of what they did for a living in the past.

  3. Captain Canuck (History)

    Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly like this blog more, I do.

  4. Bill Wieninger (History)

    Well said Jeffrey!

    • Matt (History)

      Couldn’t agree more.

  5. Nick Ritchie (History)

    This is a story where we can all chip in with our two penneth, and here’s my beef. In my country our current Prime Minister has no, zero, experience of ‘real world’ work with ‘real’ people. He was educated at Eton and Oxford where upon he went directly into politics working for the Conservative Research Department, then became a special advisor in the Treasury and Home Office, then an MP, married the daughter of a Baronet, now PM. Now he seems like a nice enough guy and has worked hard in his chosen career but, like too many of our political representatives today, he is a professional politician. Our Foreign Office was much the same but thankfully over the past 10-15 years it has greatly diversified its intake and is no longer the domain of an Oxbridge aristocracy. This can only be for the good, and anyone in high office who has some experience of toiling with the masses at what ever stage of their career should not be sneered at but recognised as having a diverse CV that enriches learning and experience and, hopefully, wisdom. I don’t know anything about Asher, but surely the questions to ask are whether he did his job well rather than belittling his place of work.

    • bob (History)

      @Nick Ritchie

      That’s not your beef, that’s horse****

      You seem to have “forgotton” Camerons first job in China – or is China not part of the ‘real world’? Are the Chinese not ‘real’ people?

      Also forgotton, his job, at I think, Carlton. Overall his working life looks good vs Ed Milliband.

      Anyway, why should work, per se, be important? Your exclusion of homemakers etc. is telling.

      Overshadowed by your trolling is an important point about the professionalisation of politics and its domination by the the communications professions, i.e. law, media pr etc. Given the UK and Londons service sector focus I don’t see a way out.

      On topic – chops to Steven Asher.

      On forum topic – My concern with Cameron is that we are sleepwalking into a joint nukedev program with the French. Arms control legality aside, my Atlanticist sensibilities are offended.

      (where **** equals “meat” – apologies for topical UK joke)

  6. John F. Opie (History)

    Excellent retort to what your links and the comments made there allude to.

    You’re also right on the spot with the arrogance and elitism of those making the criticisms. I work in a commercial enterprise and running a Target isn’t a chump job: if you think such a manager just tells people to do and sits back and drinks coffee all day, they have no idea of how the real world works.

    What did surprise me is that no one has made the comment that perhaps his experience running a Target gives him greater insight into what he is now doing. :-)

    Thank you for standing up for the man. It speaks well for your basic humanity, something that in our political polarization gets lost in the name of counting coup…

  7. krepon (History)

    As someone who grew up in a five room house (six, counting the loo), count me in. When did Mother Jones become a snobbish, anti-wage-earning rag?

  8. John Schilling (History)

    So, let me get this straight. The guy resigns from the military under questionable circumstances, winds up in a dead-end job as a retail store clerk, and someone thinks it is a good idea to give him stewardship over major military assets?

    Seems like I’ve heard this one before.

    • krepon (History)


  9. 3.1415 (History)

    Shouldn’t his CV be published somewhere to set the record straight? Both the establishment and the public need a very high level of confidence for the job that Mr. Asher has now. If Mr. Asher were to run the security for Disney, I am sure that Mother Jones would not care to dig up his promotional video at Target. Our system is relatively stable because we have different actors vying to change the system. For every guy that sent Mr. Asher from the Air Force to Target and every gal that plucked him back to the system, we need a mother Jones and a father Joe.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      First, this is a mid-level job. He’s acting Associate Administrator at NNSA. (Unless he’s appointed to the job full time, it would not be normal for his bio to posted on the website.)

      Second, he retired as a Colonel in the Air Force. You could reconstruct his career in about 10 minutes with Google.

      Third, POGO is simply looking for a cheap way to bash NNSA. This hire is at a level well below the level that most of us scrutinize unless the candidate is a felon.

      What POGO is doing doesn’t help make NNSA work better. It’s snotty and adolescent.

  10. J House (History)

    You are right, Jefferey…it is pure elitism.
    I would argue that it is harder to manage and run a Target retail store than any govt. position, including the NNSA.
    First, there is accountability, and there are numerous examples in govt. that prove that accountability isn’t an issue at all.Senator Menendez and his free flights until he is caught is a recent example. Someone running a Target that takes free $58,000 private jet flights from a vendor would be immediately fired. No review board…no union representation. No ‘ethics’ hearing.Fired.
    Second, there are profitability goals and quotas, which doesn’t even exist in a govt. job. In other words, actual results count and are measured, along with your performance. Waste all of the taxpayer’s dollars you want and blow your budget…you may even be richly rewarded with a promotion, if you are greasing the right skids.
    Third, typically it is merit that gets you promoted in the private sector. Numerous examples in govt. where that isn’t the case. Why, Penny Pritzker is about to become Commerce Secretary…we all know how she gets that position, just like most ambassadorships.

  11. Ara Barsamian (History)

    What are his qualifications for the NNSA job? Given the security breaches all over NNSA facilities, the enormous budgets, cost overruns and missed schedules, it is not funny!

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Good to hear from you again, Ara.

      His last command was a security unit at Malmstrom AFB.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Which unit, if I read correctly (i.e. between the lines), passed both of the major inspections conducted during his command, and went rapidly downhill after he left. That doesn’t necessarily make him the best in the business, but does suggest he is at least above average.

  12. Robert Marquer (History)

    Jeffrey, a few points:

    1) According to this:–190062561.html

    Mr. Asher was a Target Team Lead, not a Store Manager. A TL manages a department, such as Electronics, and makes about $14/hour (no disrespect to Steve, props to him fo jobbing it and earning a living). Above TLs are Executive Team Leads, and above the ETLs is the Store Team Lead (Store Manger).

    2) According to this:

    The 341 MW failed its NSI due to maintenance failures, so since Col Asher was the Security Forces Commander, this was not his responsibility. The other failure category was the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP)…many times this is due to poor record keeping and/or processes at the Base Medical Group…although PRP failures can also be the fault of one or more Commanders…Steve was a Commander, but we don’t have any details to know where PRP broke down.

    3) Jeffrey, you assertion that one can simply use Google to view and assess any Colonel’s career is utterly off-base. Even if you had access to the man’s personnel file, including his Officer Performance Reports, awards and medals, and his duty history (job titles and base postings, I, as a retired career Air Force officer, assert that you would only get a superficial idea/sketch of his goodness as an officer…I know very well how puffery is used and how unwelcome facts are left explicitly unsaid. So, we all have about zero idea of how good an officer he was, and I doubt any amount of Google research will allow you or me to get a real sense of his officership.

    4) The fact that he was hired by NNSA tells us little…I have seen good /and/ sketchy folks hired into Government Service.

    Just wanted to insert some facts.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Thank you for some of this. On the issue of his career, the question was whether his résumé was online. My point was that military cvs are relatively easy to construct. Obviously, a resume would not say much about officership. But that wasn’t the subject of that particular comment.

  13. Richard Marqer (History)


    Here is some current news about the U.S. administration’s thinking about the size of the nuclear stockpile.

    Potentials cuts to 10000-1100 ODSNW, perhaps 2500-3000 total.

  14. JP Whitney (History)

    Well said, everybody has to endure a less than optimal time at some point. In this economy, he’s lucky to be feeding his family.

  15. panterazero (History)

    “A lot of veterans struggle to find civilian jobs because employers don’t understand how to read a military resume.”

    Thank you. As a friend of former officers and enlisteds who have been compelled to relocate thousands of miles to find ANY job, I would like to see this point made MUCH more often in the MSM.

  16. Micah Morrison (History)

    What a great country. Only in America could someone go from the Air Force to Target to the NNSA. This is the kind of social mobility that makes the U.S. a beacon for the world’s best and brightest. I’m so proud of U.S. Air Force (ret.) Col. Steven Asher. And what a great blog. Has the Left learned nothing?

  17. mifi (History)

    The NNSA has more dysfunctional problems. The number of peers I saw in ten years service achieve senior executive status – many before the age of 40, most if not all before reaching 50 – is sickening for sure, but it was always about who you knew. Actual work ethic/contribution, meh.

  18. Christopher Ball (@skepticismwins) (History)

    Without knowing where his family lived, the question is not elitism or not. There’s no reason to assume that Asher needed the money. He might have wanted to work for the heck of it, and wanted a regular schedule that he didn’t have to worry about off-the-clock.

    My college roommate’s father was a USN captain. When he retired in his 50s, he decided to become an elementary school teacher. It wasn’t the money; it sounded fun (he was approached by private firms offering lucrative deals but turned them down).

    • Dwayne Day (History)

      I once interviewed the guy who ran the first highly-classified military weather satellite program. He left as a colonel and went to work as a professor. He could have easily stepped into a high-paying defense industry job, but he actually viewed it as unethical to trade on his contacts (and earned a lot of respect from his peers for that). He later was partly responsible for developing the blue-screen (now green) technology that allowed weathermen to stand in front of an electronic map.

  19. Bill Bishop (History)

    “So far, the best anyone can do is pointing out that his unit failed an inspection a few months after he left. That seems like a stretch to me.”

    Just to bolster your point seems like the grunts missed him whatever the brass hats think.

    Your nose works like mine.

  20. Dwayne Day (History)

    Just stumbled across this post and I say I agree 100%. For starters, we don’t know anything about his history. Perhaps he took that job because it was the only thing he could find. Or perhaps he took it so that he wouldn’t have to move and take his kids out of high school. Or perhaps he took it because his wife could cover the bills and he needed a job with regular hours so he could deal with a sick parent.

    Second, since when do we/should we define a person solely or primarily by the job they have held?

    Third, the economy sucks. Today a guy came up to me in his contractor van and handed me a flyer saying he is looking for work as a painter/general laborer. Said he’s living in his van, and then asked for some money for gas. I sleep in a warm bed. I gave him some.

    Finally, before we make fun of anybody’s job, try unemployment. I’ve been there–went from a high-paying, high-profile, very important job to extended unemployment. It does bad things for your mental health. I finally took a job that paid half my previous salary and was pretty boring, but it allowed me to pay the bills. Even today there are times when I worry that I could be out in the job market, trying to remember how to submit resumes and act in an interview. But at least a Target opened up nearby…

  21. Bahram (History)

    Is it a prerequisite for posting comments in this blog to hold that employment in the military is morally good and honorable? My last note, which rejected this premise, seems to have been filtered.

    Let me know what the guidelines for posting comments are and I will obey them to the letter. I’m just as busy as you and don’t want to waste my time typing something that will be rejected. But filtering a comment just because it isn’t palatable to you as a nationalist seems unfair.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      No,the requirement is to stay on topic. The question was whether Asher was qualified to oversee security relating to nuclear weapons. Your personal feelings about the US military are irrelevant to that question.

      Also, your comments were written with a certain level of ignorance about the US policymaking process — the US military didn’t decide to invade Iraq, US political leaders did — so I was opting out of turning the comments into US National Security Policymaking 101.

      Finally, the first comment was framed in an inflammatory way that I just found offensive.

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