Keep an Eye on This Story

Normally if a journalist were to call out a serving military officer as a liar, I would instinctively take the side of the officer. For one thing, it's an inappropriate use of the language of honor targeting a man who is forbidden by regulations from responding in kind. A military officer may not be speaking the truth -- goodness knows I've seen a few PAOs and general officers tell whoppers -- but they are saying what has been approved for them to say. They really aren't free to speak otherwise, not without resigning their commission. Unless the offense is so grave as to justify resigning your commission over it, such an untruth is not a matter of their personal honor but the honor of their organization.

The US military is an organization that has a vast treasury of honor from the sacrifices of its members in pursuit of human liberty and against totalitarianism. Unfortunately, of late, the leadership has been expending rather than adding to that treasury. The winking at child sex slavery by Afghan allies, going so far as to punish American servicemembers who stood up to it, is a moral disaster.

The distortion of intelligence to please their civilian bosses in the White House is less severe as a moral matter, but nevertheless represents a departure from the strict standards of honor that underlie victory at war. If you do not rigorously represent the truth to higher command in a military model, command decisions will depart more and more from the reality on the ground. Even in the best of cases, as explored by von Clausewitz, the fog of war distorts the ability of higher command to understand and act correctly to win victories on the ground. If you have not been faithful to your duty, but have allowed pleasing distortions into the intelligence, this will worsen. Honor is very much concerned in this story, and the honor of some ranking figures at US Central Command.

Still, the reserve is vast, even if lately the influence of the civilian commander has led many officers astray from the path of honor. Normally, as I said, if a military officer is challenged by a journalist, I'd assume the officer was in the right.

There are three factors at work in this story that make it hard to be sure one way or the other.

1) I don't know who all of her sources are, but I do know people who have at least plausible access to parts of the truth. What she's hearing isn't too different from what I've heard. There have been so many false rumors about this story that it's hard to know what to take seriously, of course, and even well-sourced reports have proven not to hold water. Still, there's a lot of smoke -- it's not implausible to think that there could be some fire. At the least a formal investigation would clear the air.

2) I know this is a matter that has been under the close and personal supervision of that civilian leadership, which has provided the distorting effect in the other cases where military honor has lately fallen down. The idea that there is pressure from above to make this happen distorting military decision making is sadly not at all implausible in this environment. On the other hand, the particular officer most concerned is MG Miller, who is a serious guy. When he says -- and he has said this directly -- that there was no pressure from above him, I tend to think that's probably true. He's probably not an easy guy to press in any case. So was the pressure from below him? Or was it only in the minds of the instructors, who were imagining pressures from above that did not actually exist?

3) Finally, some of the responses against her -- not so much the PAO's response, which was staffed, but the swarming responses on social media -- have the feel of "community organizing." If there is a coordinated effort to suppress the story, there's a reason why people feel that it is important to suppress the story. If she were dead wrong, the thing to do as her opponent would be to get all the facts out and show how wrong she was. Of course, these reactions could be being made in ignorance of whether she is right or wrong. In that case, they might just be a white-cell response to try to shut up someone who is being critical of "progress."

I don't claim to know for certain what is going on here. I do think an investigation is not a bad idea. Journalists are supposed to press for the truth and not simply accept the claims of authority. It's good even for the military if they succeed, as a rule: the journalists who broke the story about ignoring Afghan child slavery are doing a service to all the men and women who were being pressured to accept the practice.

So we'll see how this shakes out. For the moment, I'm withholding judgment even on the probabilities of the truth pending further information.

1 comment:

Ymar Sakar said...

The US military is an organization that has a vast treasury of honor from the sacrifices of its members in pursuit of human liberty and against totalitarianism. Unfortunately, of late, the leadership has been expending rather than adding to that treasury.

Demoncrats threw most of that vastness away, with the help of their allies.

Good job on using that neutral term "leadership", btw, it should help out the Dems in their Demon worship just a tad bit more.

That's worth about 5 minutes of IED casualty + Bush II coverage back in 2005.