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Belmont Club

Sacrificial Spokesman

February 8th, 2012 - 9:00 am

Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, an officer who “served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09″ and “legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas”, recently concluded, after spending a year in Afghanistan gathering data for a report on equipment, that the whole operation had become a fraud.

He echoed the assessment of Anthony Cordesman’s conclusion that the war was being reported to fit a political template, while in the meantime doing little or nothing to achieve any tangible goal. Cordesman wrote, “Since June 2010, the unclassified reporting the U.S. does provide has steadily shrunk in content, effectively ‘spinning’ the road to victory by eliminating content that illustrates the full scale of the challenges ahead. They also, however, were driven by political decisions to ignore or understate Taliban and insurgent gains from 2002 to 2009, to ignore the problems caused by weak and corrupt Afghan governance, to understate the risks posed by sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to ‘spin’ the value of tactical ISAF victories while ignoring the steady growth of Taliban influence and control.”

The reason why the Army gone along, according to Davis, is to defend its turf and programs. In other words, it has kept quiet to get money.

I first encountered senior-level equivocation during a 1997 division-level “experiment” that turned out to be far more setpiece than experiment. Over dinner at Fort Hood, Texas, Training and Doctrine Command leaders told me that the Advanced Warfighter Experiment (AWE) had shown that a “digital division” with fewer troops and more gear could be far more effective than current divisions. The next day, our congressional staff delegation observed the demonstration firsthand, and it didn’t take long to realize there was little substance to the claims. Virtually no legitimate experimentation was actually conducted. All parameters were carefully scripted. All events had a preordained sequence and outcome. The AWE was simply an expensive show, couched in the language of scientific experimentation and presented in glowing press releases and public statements, intended to persuade Congress to fund the Army’s preference. Citing the AWE’s “results,” Army leaders proceeded to eliminate one maneuver company per combat battalion. But the loss of fighting systems was never offset by a commensurate rise in killing capability.

A combination of military compliance and corrupt politics has led to a situation in which the Taliban are captured only to be released, an Afghan Army which pretends of fight and American lives and treasure wasted in strategies and efforts that are known to be useless.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says “shared his pessimistic view with some members of Congress and written a classified version of his article for the Defense Department, a highly unusual move that he expects will anger his commanders and short-circuit his professional career.” The NYT writes,

He briefed four members of Congress and a dozen staff members, spoke with a reporter for The New York Times, sent his reports to the Defense Department’s inspector general — and only then informed his chain of command that he had done so. …

“I’m going to get nuked,” he said in an interview last month.

But his bosses’ initial response has been restrained. They told him that while they disagreed with him, he would not face “adverse action,” he said.

But the NYT soft-pedaled the core of Davis’ allegation: that the present administration has been fighting a PR campaign disguised as a war and using lives to pay for it, suggesting that senior Democrats have been thinking the same thing all along and that — just maybe — Davis is over-wrought.

Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, one of four senators who met with Colonel Davis despite what he called “a lot of resistance from the Pentagon,” said the colonel was a valuable witness because his extensive travels and midlevel rank gave him access to a wide range of soldiers.

Moreover, Colonel Davis’s doubts about reports of progress in the war are widely shared, if not usually voiced in public by officers on duty. Just last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at a hearing that she was “concerned by what appears to be a disparity” between public testimony about progress in Afghanistan and “the bleaker description” in a classified National Intelligence Estimate produced in December, which was described in news reports as “sobering” and “dire.” …

Colonel Davis can come across as strident, labeling as lies what others might call wishful thinking. Matthew M. Aid, a historian who examines Afghanistan in his new book “Intel Wars,” says that while there is a “yawning gap” between Pentagon statements and intelligence assessments, “it’s oversimplified to say the top brass are out-and-out lying. They are just too close to the subject.”

But Martin L. Cook, who teaches military ethics at the Naval War College, says Colonel Davis has identified a hazard that is intrinsic to military culture, in which a can-do optimism can be at odds with the strictest candor when a mission is failing.

But Daniel Davis may also be that other thing common in military history: the designated spokesman for a widely felt grievance; the someone who is willing to take the heat to say what otherwise cannot be said. One almost senses that Davis’ report was prepared with the tacit support of others. Certainly Davis, who has been around politicians in an advisory capacity for long enough to know how the system works, must have intended his report for political effect. It is a curtain raiser on an as yet unannounced scene.

Since not a single high ranking Republican has as yet attempted to take up Davis’ report as a starting point there must be a widespread political feeling that the arena to whose floor Davis’ report opens is a dangerous one. Republicans have traditionally refrained from criticizing a war effort while operations are underway. Meanwhile the Democrats, who are much more comfortable criticizing wars, are now tongue-tied by the fact that their own leadership is in fact responsible for its prosecution of the war in Afghanistan.  Barack Obama campaigned on making it the centerpiece of his new strategy. If now that strategy turns out to be nothing but air and spin paid for by blood, it would go hard on their party.

What is different about Davis’ accusation is that is not an argument that “the war is unwinnable” as much as that “the war was never intended to be won”.

It suggests that the key corruption is not that taking place within the Afghan government, though there is plenty enough of that, but in the moral corruption within the Pentagon, the Capitol and the White House.  Even the admission of that corruption would be preferable to the explanation of malice; that the politicians have quit working for the American people and are now only employed on their own personal behalf and whoever is willing to pay them. If so, then Washington is a problem which has to be solved if the war — and any war fought in the national defense — is to be won or even undertaken, except in a purely shambolic sense.

None of this is to say that Daniel Davis is writing the Gospel Truth; but it is reasonable to assert that he raises a question which at least deserves some attention. The response in the next few days — if there is any — will be an interesting indicator of whether the issues Davis raises are up for discussion, or whether “the fix” is quite sadly the settled consensus within the political system.


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