Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings—yes, that Michael Hastings—has written another investigative article on U.S. operations in Afghanistan, centered again on a general in the theatre. The revelations are perhaps more shocking than those that resulted in General Stanley McChrystal’s dismissal last summer.
His newest bombshell alleges that the U.S Army illegally engaged in “psychological operations” with the aim of manipulating various high‐level U.S. government officials into believing that the war was progressing in order to gain their continued support. The list of targets includes members of Congress, diplomats, think tank analysts, and even Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff. Over at The Skeptics, I attempt to put this in context:
While American soldiers and Afghan civilians continue to kill and be killed in Afghanistan, the Pentagon seeks to provide the illusion of progress, systematically misrepresenting realities on the ground to bide more time, gain more troops, and acquire more funding. It’s bad enough that the American media uncritically relays statements from U.S. officials portraying “success” on the ground. Now the Pentagon is using its massive propaganda budget to blur the line between informing the public and spinning it to death. In fact, several years ago the Associated Press found that the Pentagon had spent $4.7 billion on public relations in 2009 alone, and employs 27,000 people for recruitment, advertising and public relations, nearly as many as the 30,000-person State Department. Essentially the Pentagon is trying to influence public policy and lobby civilian officials to shift policies toward their own ends while dispersing the costs onto the American taxpayer.
Luckily, it appears that Americans have come to learn that despite the media’s frequent adulation of their uniformed military, the Pentagon operates just like every other bureaucracy in the federal government. According to a poll released earlier this month by Gallup, 72 percent of Americans want Congress to speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. Much like the McChrystal flap from last summer, there is a very fine line between military officials offering their honest opinion and threatening civilian control of the war.
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