In almost all societies, the military has a high level of prestige and influence. In healthy democracies, the civilian leadership has ultimate control, but under the pressures of war time conditions, militaries have a tendency to become more engaged in the decision making process, often with unpleasant results.
According to Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings, high ranking members of the US Army repeatedly ordered personnel to use psychological pressure on US Senators so they would support additional war funding. Documents obtained by Rolling Stone indicate that lawmakers weren’t the only targets of propaganda. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, influential think tanks and foreign dignitaries were also among the individuals targeted by the Army. The action is illegal under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948; psychological operations such as these are only for use against “hostile foreign groups,” said Rolling Stone.
While the report may seem stunning and unprecedented, pressure tactics, misleading reports and lies through omission have often been employed by the military during wartime to secure support for military action.
These are not historical abnormalities; they occur often, but tend to leak to the press after the political tensions have been resolved.
Early in President Obama’s first year, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel complained generals were boxing the president in with public statements about how many additional troops should be sent to fight in Afghanistan before the president had even committed to sending any additional troops. It’s widely accepted that the statements were intentionally made to put Obama in a position where he would have to send large numbers of troops to avoid being perceived as soft.
According to Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars, when the administration was attempting to assess how many troops to commit to Afghanistan in late 2009, General David Petraeus and General Michael Mullen “misled” the president on whether an option to provide fewer additional troops could be successful. To make the case for larger troop increases, the generals citied a war game which never actually took place.
Later, Vice President Biden informed the president that the general’s report was “bullshit,” but the president insist his decision to send additional troops was based on other factors.
While these examples are rarely discussed and often overlooked, situations involving military hubris over a freshman administration abound throughout the history of American warfare.
Colonel H. R. McMaster’s 1998 book Dereliction of Duty documents the intentional lies delivered from numerous parties involved, most notable however was the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s willingness to mislead the president about the war in Vietnam, mentioning only once that it would take 500,000 troops and a five year long commitment to achieve victory.
President Kennedy was repeatedly mislead about the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and numerous covert operations coming from the military and quazi-military organizations like the CIA.
Often, when not explicitly instructed the military will do what it wants, especially in war time. In light of recent developments, perhaps it’s time the president make his position on covert operations involving American citizens more clear.