Pundits or Puppets Cont.

Glenn Greenwald notes today on his blog that several media organizations continue to evade questions raised by Sunday's New York Times article on relationships between their military pundits and the Pentagon. Glenn takes great umbrage at this silence, saying it amounts to "height of hubris, and unmistakable proof of their core corruption." I wouldn't go that far, though the Times piece certainly reflects poorly on the judgment of the media organizations who knew about these ties and failed to disclose them.

After thinking about this story for a few days, however, the more interesting questions seem to be about the relationship between American society and its military -- questions that cut to the core of our democracy and how we choose to wage war and peace.

Politicization of the Officer Corps. Over the past 30-40 years, a civil-military divide has emerged in this country. The divide results from a number of factors. One is the way the all-volunteer force self-selects, and in many ways, perpetuates itself -- children of veterans are significantly more likely to join the military. A second is the gradual geographic isolation of the military. Its bases sit away from major cities and are concentrated in Southern and rural areas. This reduces contact between the military and broader society. It also shapes the cultural character of the military. Socially, culturally and politically, the career servicemembers have become more conservative relative to society. And they're more likely to be affiliated with the Republican Party. As my colleague Rosa Brooks writes: "In 1976, 25% of civilians characterized themselves as Republicans, while 33% of military officers were Republicans -- a military-civilian 'gap' of only 8%. By 1996, the military-civilian gap on party affiliation had grown to 33%; while 34% of civilians self-identified as Republicans, so did a whopping 70% of military officers." This provides a partial explanation for the unusually cozy relationships between some retired military officers and Republican political appointees at the Pentagon.

A Failure of Generalship. It's not like today's generation of lieutenants, captains, majors and sergeants really needed another reason to dislike senior military officers. As my friend Melissa Tryon wrote in the Washington Monthly last year: "most troops don't like generals. Generals don't think like the other 99 percent of troops, because generals are political animals as much as they're military animals." Quite right. And to echo Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, today's generals haven't done a bang-up job. In case you've missed it, the operational and strategic leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quite poor; it's taken five years to adopt something close to a decent strategy for securing the population and tamping down the insurgency in Iraq. And now we hear about retired generals reportedly debasing themselves in exchange for access, notoriety and possibly more. In letting themselves be spun, these generals betrayed the men and women on the ground doing the fighting today.

The Unitary Executive. The Times article is also a reminder of the Bush administration's modus operandi, which goes something like this: "We know what's best for you; we'll tell you what you need to know; trust us." Once the administration decided on its strategy for Iraq, it adopted that position with all possible certainty, leaving zero room for doubt, dissent or discussion. Every organ of the administration focused on marshaling support for this policy. In the public affairs arena, that meant delivering a message that supported the policy -- regardless of the ground truth. The Bush administration didn't trust us, the people, with the truth, because, as Col. Nathan R. Jessup memorably said in A Few Good Men: "You can't handle the truth!" Our democracy has broken down as the result of this logic, with the result that the people no longer support this war, yet the war grinds on anyway. Call it the strategic failure of the unitary executive; if only he'd read his Clausewitz.

By Phillip Carter |  April 22, 2008; 11:55 AM ET  | Category:  Civil-Military Relations
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Outstanding comments/observations.

You are definitely "on to something" with respect to the civil-military divide. Currently I am engaged in a struggle with the Army Cadet Command to recognize the need to better resource Metro NYC with ROTC assets. Unfortunately, I am running into many brick walls of cultural bias and many senior civilians who are culturally out-of-synch with urban/cosmopolitan America. NYC has many times the student population of either Boston or DC, yet it is given the same ROTC resources as those cities - 2. The 5 million souls in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island are served by 1 Army ROTC program - compared to 10 for the 4.5 million Alabamans. I could go on.

I am coming to the conclusion that this civil-military "fix" can only come from the top. In the past 30 years, our entering officer cohorts have grown so unreflective of larger society that I fear internal "fixes" will be impossible. I mean, If I can't convince the military that Manhattan would be a suitable site to have an ROTC host program (in 1968 it had 3 of them today it has none), what more can be said?

Despite all of the "lessons learned" through OIF/OEF, Army Cadet Command is still charting its marketing/recruiting/manning course on the same methodology it developed in early 2001. Despite the recognized need for more language capability and cultural competency in our officer corps, Cadet Command is still focusing on 1 pre-selected 15% of the national college market ideantified as "first stringers" by Dr. Bert Huggins, their marketing consultant. Not surprisingly, these "first stringers" exhibit the characteristics the Army views as "desirable" in Cadets: military parents, a penchant for outdoor activities and extreme sports, etc. How short sighted! Men like Jack Keane, Kevin Byrnes and Colin Powell - NYC born and raised Army 4 stars - would surely have been written off as subpar "ROTC Cadet material" under today's model of what attributes predict a good officer - never mind how culturally biased and subjective they are.

WRT to the Military Analyst issue, why has no bandwidth/column space been spent investigating MG Robert Scales? As I've said before, I think there is quite a story there between his work at Colgen, his "access" as a Pentagon-favored commentator and his public pronouncements. On the other thread, I've linked to some place's on Colgen's website that raise questions for me.

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | April 22, 2008 1:18 PM

Another thing ...

I think we are entering a very dangerous time WRT to American civil-military relations. Since the onset of OIF, I have observed a very seductive narrative unfolding (spurred by DoD) that our military should now be revered as "professional warriors" as opposed to servicemembers answerable to the American people. As I've said before, this message is toxic but there have been surprisingly few commentators willing to stand up and be counted questioning it. These "issues" range from the term "wounded warrior" to replace the now disfavored term "disabled veteran" to the use of "warrior dress" to set our military apart in airports, hotels and campuses nationwide. Funny thing: these ideas/terms were ginned up by the same Tori Clarke/Larry Di Rita/Allison Barber OSD Public Affairs team that gave us the recently exposed "military analyst" crisis. Why does no one examine this?

Where am I going with this? This "don't question the military" is now bleeding over into electoral politics. In Eastern Long Island (NY-01), an Iraq war veteran running for Congress named Lee Zeldin is trying to intimidate the incumbent Tim Bishop by asserting that as a "non veteran" he has forfeited his right to question either the "thoughts or actions" of a veteran. Don't believe me? Here's a link to a recent letter from Zeldin to this effect that appeared in a Long Island newspaper:


This guy is endorsed by the "Vets for Freedom" group. He really wants Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" to come to America. Scary. I'm most troubled by Zeldin's belief that the only service to protect/defend our Constitution comes from serving in the military. Last I checked, Attorneys, judges and yes, non-veteran Congressmen take a virtually identical oath.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | April 22, 2008 1:39 PM

For the sake of context, here's the letter written by Rep. Tim Bishop that prompted Zeldin's unhinged response where he asserted that Bishop "used his [Zeldin's] service against me."

The Times of Smithtown

To the Editor,

In response to the letter you received on March 27 ("Congress is taxing America to death"), I strongly disagree with my potential opponent that the congressional budget is an "irresponsible proposal" and "the largest tax increase in American history."

As a veteran, he should know that veterans and military retirees overwhelmingly support the budget resolution passed by the U.S. House. Does he really wish to oppose veterans' advocacy organizations such as AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars - which are just a sample of the veterans' groups that endorsed the budget?

The American Legion stated it is the "first budget in decades worthy of the sacrifice asked of America 's veterans and their families." And the VFW characterized the budget as "an unparalleled commitment to veterans' service."

Nonpartisan "watchdog" groups agree the budget does not raise taxes. The Brookings Institution recognized that AMT relief without increasing the deficit is our priority. The Committee for a Responsible Budget said that "the budget resolution does not raise taxes."

Not since before the Republican majority did so many endorsements and such a broad coalition demonstrate its support for the congressional budget. His letter also ignores that it balances the budget by 2012 and commits more to middle-class priorities, including more health care, education and infrastructure funds than requested by President Bush.

Long Island will also benefit from AMT relief and funding for innovation in the House-passed budget. Masking the truth under the cover of exaggerated rhetoric as my potential opponent would have you believe is simply irresponsible. Therefore, I hope he recognizes the value of honest, fact-based discussions of issues that affect all of us, rather than inaccurate assertions designed to mislead.

Tim Bishop

Member of Congress

CORRECTION to earlier post: NYC had 4 ROTC host institutions in 1968 : Columbia-Navy; CCNY-Army; NYU-Army & USAF.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | April 22, 2008 2:05 PM

Phil, while you bring up interesting points, I think you miss Glenn Greenwald's point. . .

"As Bill Moyers noted at the beginning of his truly superb documentary on the media-government collaboration concerning the invasion: "The story of how the media bought what the White House was selling has not been told in depth on television." Thus, one of the most significant political stories of this generation -- what Moyers described as "our press largely surrender[ing] its independence and skepticism to join with our Government in marching to war" -- has simply been rendered invisible by our largest media outlets."

We're talking about the government using the military for information ops directed at the American public, that is domestic psyops. Isn't that the real issue, not any of the ones that you mention?

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 22, 2008 2:14 PM

I came across a Q&A story in a Pittsburgh newspaper that's making the rounds on the blogs.

They asked the three major candidates what they would do to end the civil-military divide:

Q: Military experts increasingly have grown concerned about a gap during the All-Volunteer Force between civil society and those in the armed forces. As president, what would you do to close that gap?

Barack Obama: To succeed against 21st century threats, we must improve our civilian capacity. The finest military in the world is adapting to the challenges of the 21st century. But it cannot counter insurgent and terrorist threats without civilian counterparts who can carry out economic and political reconstruction missions -- sometimes in dangerous places. As President, I will strengthen these civilian capacities, recruiting our best and brightest to take on this challenge. I will increase both the numbers and capabilities of our diplomats, development experts, and other civilians who can work alongside our military. We can't just say there is no military solution to these problems. We need to integrate all aspects of American might.

An Obama administration will establish an Expeditionary Capability: within non-Pentagon agencies (State Department, US Agency for International Development, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, etc.) to deploy personnel where they are needed. These civilians will be integrated with, and sometimes operate independently from, our military expeditionary capabilities. This will help move troops out of civilian roles, as well as bring in the experts with the right expertise and skills.

We will also create a Civilian Assistance Corps (CAC). There is presently no mechanism for civilians with special skill-sets (be they doctors, lawyers, engineers, city planners, agriculture specialists, police, etc.) and a sense of service, to be trained and organized to help their nation when it needs them. The Civilian Assistance Corps (modeled after similar auxiliary groups in Virginia and California) would provide each federal agency a pool of volunteer experts willing to deploy in crises. They would be pre-trained and screened for deployment to supplement departments' expeditionary teams. The creation of such a corps would ensure that true experts carry out tasks such as restoring electricity or creating banking systems, rather than the current practice of expecting already over-burdened soldiers to assume these roles. An Obama administration will set a goal of creating a national CAC of 25,000 personnel.

Hillary Clinton: On December 9th, 1941, when President Roosevelt addressed the American people in one of his fireside chats, the nation was in shock. Pearl Harbor had taken place just two days before.

At that moment, the President said, "We are now in this war. We are all in it all the way.

Every single man, woman, and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history. We must share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories."

That was Presidential leadership that understood when American soldiers are in harm's way, we are all at risk. When any one of them is injured, we are all diminished. And when they give the ultimate sacrifice, it is all of our loss.

Two and a half years after the attack on Pearl Harbor and that fireside chat, President Roosevelt signed into law the original G.I. Bill of Rights.

On September 12, 2001, when the Bush Administration could count on the goodwill of the entire world; it had strong support of both parties; and the determination of the American people to sacrifice for a common cause. That call to sacrifice never came.

Well, we have a choice to make: are we all in it? Are we all going to stand behind those

who are giving everything they have? I think we will, but I think we need to be summoned to do that. So let us work not just to respond to the outrage and the problems of the moment, but to chart a new course for the military and the VA to take care of those who are taking care of us. I have no doubt in my mind that we are guided by the best of American values, not by politics, and if we are steered by the truth, not by wishing it were different, we will produce real results and not just rhetoric. And that is what our troops deserve from us.

John McCain: I am proud to have supported legislation to establish "citizen soldier" provisions, $18,000 bonus to anyone who enlists in the military and agrees to serve for 3 years (18 months on active duty and 18 on reserve), to incentive more participation in our nation's military by civilians who might otherwise not serve. In addition, I believe that we must do what we can to smooth the transition for veterans from military to civilian life. I have strongly supported educational and job counseling programs to help veterans get civilian employment and have worked to provide new educational assistance for reservists. In addition, I am a strong supporter of the Troops-To-Teachers Act, a program to train veterans to become teachers, and have introduced legislation to extend the program. I also believe that we must provide more assistance to veterans who are recently discharged and has worked to extend unemployment and vocational training benefits for veterans.

The entire Q&A can be read at http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/cityregion/s_563359.html

Posted by: Oregon Vet | April 22, 2008 3:35 PM

There is obviously a media angle here, since television outlets have little reason to report on comment on newspaper stories about them. Also, while electronic media outlets compete for audience they do not, as a rule, criticize one another; for reporters working for CNN or CBS, ABC and Fox are the competition today but may be their employer tomorrow. Finally, barring a Congressional hearing, no one else is going to force television or radio news to answer any questions about how easily they were duped by military analysts being run out of the Pentagon.

Phil's points on civil-military relations are well taken, as is his clear implication about what this story says to serving enlisted men and officers below the rank of, say, lt. colonel. The portrait Barstow paints of the television military analysts is not a flattering one. These were not warriors momentarily led astray; in Barstow's telling, they come off as shallow, vain men inclined to venality and easily manipulated. Hired to bring independent judgment to the electronic media, the military analysts showed more than that they did not have such judgment -- they showed they didn't want to have it. They wanted to be told what to do.

After all the years repairing and rebuilding the military after Vietnam, Barstow's piece was a signal that we may be back to where we started, with a senior officer corps unworthy of the men it is charged with leading. There are probably junior officers and enlisted personnel who believed that already. It's a new idea for the public, though.

Posted by: Zathras | April 23, 2008 12:31 PM

If I could add one additional comment: Phil's first post on this subject referred to the White House/DoD use of military analysts as message amplifiers as "somewhat clumsy." Frankly, that's not what it looks like to me.

Whatever else it was, this was a well-planned and executed operation directed at an institution -- the electronic media -- that the administration officials responsible clearly understood very well, and using personnel -- the retired military analysts -- whom these officials understood just as well. The administration got its talking points amplified with minimal distortion on all the major television news outlets for a period of several years. Clumsy, this effort was not.

Posted by: Zathras | April 23, 2008 12:51 PM

"The campaign that the Pentagon designed had three elements. One element was to dominate the news 24/7. I was at a conference in London in the summer of 2003 at which the Pentagon communication consultant, John Rendon, spoke and gave an assessment of how they had done in the run-up to the war. And he said, "Well, there were three things we tried to do, and we did well on two, but not the third." The first was to make the news be theirs 24/7, and they did that by the morning briefings from Baghdad--or from Kuwait and then the afternoon press conference from the Pentagon. "We wanted to control the printed media, and that was primarily done by the embedded program." He said, "The one thing we failed at was we didn't have people who provided the context. We lost control of the military analysts, and they were giving context."

So it was about sixty days after that presentation that the Pentagon began this meeting with the military analysts. And I might point out that it was only those who generally agreed. People who had been saying critical things were never invited to this. I was never invited, and I had been saying critical things about the number of troops and, you know, about the argument for the war and even WMD, but didn't get invited. People that were generally supportive of the Pentagon were the ones that were invited.

But it was certainly part of--and this is where I think I fault the Pentagon. We're very close to violating the law. They are prohibited from doing propaganda against American people. And when you put together the campaign that Torie Clarke did with these three elements, you're very close to a violation of the law."

Col. Sam Gardiner, USAF ret.


Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 23, 2008 6:46 PM

You're missing BIG POINT which should be #1 - CORRUPTION.

FOLLOW THE MONEY! This is so obvious I'm stunned that nobody in the beltway saw it for 7 years. David Barstow hit on it, but his lede was the propaganda. I agree propaganda is disgusting, but the corruption is an abomination of our system of government.

Seriously, we want to think it's about the perks of power and access. Sure, it's about that.

But in the Bush/Cheney world, access is also providing financial access as well. General Y who today goes on FOX or CNN will tomorrow sit in a board meeting where the CEO asks, "Who do we know in agency XXX?" and the board will turn to General Y. General Y will be able to say, "I'll see what I can do."

I can assure you that Agency XXX is not a DoD agency. The products and services are not merely weapons, they cover food, fuel, phones, etc. The politicization of the entire US government as a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP is rampant.

Why do you think so many people keep their mouths shut about this kind of corruption? They are LITERALLY BUYING SILENCE. It's because they know how deep the corruption goes, and how little motivation there is to stop it.

Again, not to harp on this, but I'm not merely addressing the weapons system corruption. I'm trying to get you to see that EVERYTHING in Bush/Cheney world is tied to controlling the message to promote the war with financial strings. Look at Katrina spending, for example. Look at highway bills. Look at the mortgage bailout.

The US gov't will spend $3.1 TRILLION this year. Much of that goes to non-governmental businesses for products and services.

Posted by: boscobobb | April 23, 2008 8:00 PM

Phil's comments regarding the civil-military divide, with IRR's astute observations supporting, illustrate what has always been an issue within the military officer corps, but which is now seeing the light of day.

Folks, as one of them, I'm going to tell you that, despite the oath to the Constitution of which we're all so proud, far too many military officers do not understand the Constitution or the nation they serve. The blindness advances slowly over the years until the officer really kind of forgets just who he is in relation to his fellow citizens. The tendency is most pronounced among senior officers, most of whom treasure order above all and limit their Constitutional knowledge to Article 2, where that CinC business lies. This becomes the end-all and be-all of the military existence.

Military officers abhor disorder. Clear lines of authority address that. Many are repulsed by the chaotic state of American life and culture, not realizing that this was the vision of the Founders. Many generals, if they ever read some of Jefferson's work, or even some of what Washington said, would wonder why such radicals were not arrested. The U.S. military is essentially Prussian in outlook, with all categorized by rank and station, and with dissent and disrespect viewed as grave offenses.

It's not surprising that retired senior military officers view advancing the agenda of the executive as a perfectly ordinary thing to do. This is what they've been trained to do, and it often works well when they're actually out there doing what generals are supposed to do while on active duty.

These officers have gotten off track in retirement by confusing roles and responsibilities. They accepted well paying gigs in the news business, but never understood what those jobs were supposed to be about. No surprise, since advocacy journalism--a blight on the land and the reason why the American people can't get the truth--now reigns supreme. The news organizations themselves probably didn't even realize what was happening, that these officers were indeed acting as agents of the government in running perception management operations against the U.S. people.

When I think of officers such as these, I think of waiters in fancy restaurants with the linen towels over their arms, asking "May I take your order please?" ISTM that's how they approached their "analyst" roles when dealing with their former masters.

Posted by: Publius | April 23, 2008 8:56 PM


"you're very close to a violation of the law"

I'm afraid that I cannot agree with the above statement. Anytime that the government intentionally jams the national dialog with a campaign of hiring supposedly neutral experts to make false or misleading statements about something as important as the war it shatters the intent of the constitution regardless of the letter of the law.

Furthermore to do such a thing in support of a policy decision as stupid and pointless as the Iraq invasion is such a severe assault on common sense that it should carry the death penalty.

This country faces a dire choice:
1. Impeach the President immediately or
2. Admit that Republic is dead and hail the American Empire

Unfortunately I can see the story disappearing from the national scene so I can already predict that we will take path #2.

The failure of Congressional Democrats to seize on this issue proves once again that the Democratic party is now completely dead. Hillary and Obama are only fighting over who gets control over the choicest parts of the cadaver. The Republicans would never let an issue of this size simply disappear.

Posted by: Pluto | April 23, 2008 9:33 PM


I think Gardiner was being diplomatic, trying not to be labelled as a "conspiracy theorist" since that is the usual label employed to deflect attention, dismiss contrary analysis, which is only part of their information dominance plan of controlling the narrative/"marketplace of ideas" . . .

If you look at how the whole "surge" information operation was packaged, reinforced by the media echo chamber and then became the dominant narrative (even to now) inspite of people like Phil bringing up very significant arguments against the whole set of dubious assumptions, you get an idea of the power of this propaganda. We're operating within what Jacques Ellul called a "total propaganda" environment and if you are inside it becomes very difficult to see out. . .

In other words, I agree with you.

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 24, 2008 7:28 AM

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