When A System of Shared Power Breaks

Rolling Stone recently featured an extraordinary article on this topic: There is an Army unit in Afghanistan whose task is to deploy psychological and propagandistic techniques on the citizens of Afghanistan so as to assist the Army’s broader goals. The news comes in the form of the fact that the unit was ordered to practice some of the techniques on visiting U.S. citizens. The unit resisted the order, owing to another fact: it is illegal for the unit to practice the techniques on Americans. An excerpt:

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as “information operations” at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

The rest of the article may be read at rollingstone.com. (And by the way, I never imagined, back in the 1970s and 1980s, that Rolling Stone would become a significant source of news. But, owing largely to the rest of the media, it has. I think Robert Kennedy Jr.’s article in RS on the theft of the presidential election was one of the more thorough, evidence-dependent ones I read.)

As the author, Michael Hastings, noted in a radio-interview yesterday, it is of course customary for the military to guide and manage the visits of politicians, but this order to turn the “psy-ops” unit takes the “management” many steps further.

This occurrence points toward another fracture in the ostensible system of shared power (sometimes called balance of powers) that the Constitution established. In my opinion, one fracture occurred when the Supreme Court stopped the counting of ballots in Florida in the presidential election. Another chronic fracture is the disappearance of real negotiations and compromise in Congress. On almost every issue of importance, a zero-sum game seems to kick in now.

The executive and legislative branches are supposed to share power with the military and to oversee the military–via budgeting, hearings, committees, and–in the case of a president–direct orders and the capacity to fire generals and determine strategy.

Of course, some may legitimately argue that “our” government lost control of the military a long time ago. That said, the direct practice of propaganda and of psychological techniques seems not just lend even more legitimacy to this argument, but to suggest that, indeed, the U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan may be folly, at least.


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