Today’s New York Times includes a story by Elizabeth Bumiller, titled “As the Commander in Chief Deliberates, Frustration Builds Within the Ranks.” It is a so-called Military Memo and as the title suggests, it is filled with quotes from Bumiller’s sources who aren’t too happy with the Obama administration’s deliberations over strategy in Afghanistan.
The headline of the piece clearly suggests that the frustration is within the active duty military. Bumiller echoes that claim in this paragraph:
A number of active duty and retired senior officers say there is concern that the president is moving too slowly, is revisiting a war strategy he announced in March and is unduly influenced by political advisers in the Situation Room. [Emphasis added]
Both the headline and this paragraph struck me as very odd, as it is rare to see members of the active duty military publicly speak out against the President qua Commander in Chief. I was even more surprised, then, that Bumiller’s piece does not quote any active duty member of the military voicing “furstration” or “concern” about the Obama administration…or any other issues. No active duty members of the military are quoted. Bumiller’s sources include:
“Nathaniel C. Fick, a former Marine Corps infantry officer…”
“the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Thomas J. Tradewell Sr….”
“A retired general who served in Iraq…”
“[Defense Secretary Robert M.] Gates…”
“Andrew M. Exum, a former Army officer in Afghanistan, an adviser to General McChrystal and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security…”
“Michael O’Hanlon, a national security expert at the Brookings Institution.”
“A military policy analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing senior Pentagon leaders”
Note that none of these are active duty members of the military. The “military policy analyst” is almost certainly someone from a think tank, or, at most, a civilian working at the Pentagon. With seven sources in her piece, Bumiller has failed to back up the headline and her claim that “active duty” officers think Obama is moving too slowly and is being overly influenced by political advisers.
The only possible exception is that she does refer to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s public disagreement about a reduction of the scale of the war in Afghanistan. But while McChrystal’s disagreement was public and widely reported, McChrystal did not say Obama was moving too slowly nor did he say he was being influenced by his political advisers. That is, Bumiller’s claim is not supported by McChrystal.
Reporting that active duty officers are speaking to the New York Times about their complaints of the President’s decision making timing and his choice of advisers is a big deal. It would be quite a controversy – one that Secretary Gates has already taken steps to avoid. But making the bold claim that this is happening and failing to back it up with even a single source — on the record or anonymous — is a bigger deal. Bumiller is telling a story she does not have sources to support. Conveniently, it’s one that fits into a common Beltway narrative fostered by the right that the military doesn’t trust Democrats. It’s sad that Bumiller has been given the space to do this, as it is an insult to the professionalism of the women and men of America’s military, generally, and the officer corps in particular.