Michael Hastings is in contention to be President of the “Generals Takedown” club, with a new piece in Rolling Stone alleging some very serious misconduct on the part of NTM-A chief General Caldwell.
The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in “psychological operations” to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators…
The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.
There is more to this, and I highly suggest reading the 3-page article before coming back to this discussion.
The Pentagon appears to be taking the charges seriously—they have already opened an investigation into the incident Hastings describes (which involves a worrying account, from one side so keep that in mind, of an O5 being investigated for complaining about an improper tasking). The problem is, I’m not at all certain of which law he’s broken: if it’s true that officer in the article was being assigned to do things that are off-task, then that’s one thing. Similarly, it’s still an open question about how and if General Caldwell actually conducted a PSYOP or information operations campaign against Senators, Congressmen, and think tankers, as the article doesn’t actually describe much taking place after that officer was told to assemble briefing packages on them.
So I’m not at all sure of what happened here, and it’s important we not discount the role of a disgruntled officer (the LTC who gave Hastings the story) in all of this. He has an axe to grind. But there are aspects to this that remain deeply worrying about this story. Forget Congress: if anyone thinks CODELs aren’t ginormous dog-and-pony shows to impress dignitaries, they’re ignorant. I expect the military to try to put on a good show for them.
What worries me is what this says about how the war is being managed, and the mention of think tankers. Regular readers here know I rail against the “ISAF adventure tours” across Afghanistan—whatever think tank they work for, there is a considered effort to support the “research trips” of pro-war think tankers looking to push the agenda of the military. To me, it is an absolutely poisonous dynamic of the intellectual discussion of the war, with an ideological foundation for controlling access to the war.
The details of this story, and General Caldwell’s role in it, will come out soon. Some things about it don’t make sense, like why General Caldwell would target the very pro-NTM-A Carl Levin for influence, or why anyone would think John McCain needs help being more pro-war. But, what I want is for them to name names. If Hastings has the names of think tankers who have been improperly lobbied for influence on war policy, I want those names out there. If the names come up during the investigations, I want to know who’s been funded, with what expectations from the military, and what they said in response.
Who knows, maybe this can prompt some more uncomfortable questions about how the war is being packaged and sold to the public. One can hope, at least.