Michael Hastings – the journalist who brought down General Stanley McChrystal – has a new piece in Rolling Stone alleging that General William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan security forces, “illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in ‘psychological operations’ to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war.” General Petraeus has ordered an investigation. I am no expert on the issues raised by the Hastings story, but several elements of the story make me think there is much less here than meets the eye.
First, Congress exercises a lot of control through appropriations over military operations, especially COIN operations that require throwing around a lot of U.S. dollars. It is commonplace for soldiers in the field to try to present an attractive picture on the ground for visiting congressional delegations in order to persuade them to continue or increase funding for missions. It is also commonplace to frame the pitch to address the interests, pet projects and peeves, inclinations, concerns, and the like, of visiting officials. Doing so requires research.