April 1, 2012  

Truth, lies and duty

ARMY Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis’ feature article, “Truth, Lies and Afghanistan” [January/February] marks a disturbing trend among officers engaging in what essentially is political discourse in uniform. Leaving aside the intellectual fallacy of drawing broad strategic conclusions from a tale of disjointed anecdotal encounters by one officer flitting around the battle space over the course of a year, Davis has anointed himself as a Bringer of Truth, publicizing one man’s observations as some sort of prescient, whistle-blowing indictment of the larger strategy and its execution.

Whistle-blowing is protected when the acts disclosed are unlawful, unethical or otherwise so incompetent that they rise to a level of near criminality. It should not be protected for officers who simply have a different view of a strategic setting than senior military and civilian strategic leaders. Perhaps because he believes it to be the right thing to do, and perhaps for his own professional magnification, Davis has aggrandized his position as a middleweight field-grade officer, wading into heavyweight territory without properly having been placed on the fight card.

The Army dares not discipline Davis for essentially talking out of school, subverting the chain of command and acting in quite an unofficerlike manner. The public relations reaction in the blogosphere and print journalism will fall on the side of the modern-day Don Quixote, mostly because the blogosphere and print journalists do not have a robust and nuanced understanding of the duty of a military professional. The military services and senior uniformed and civilian leaders rightly rely on the discretion of their officers to place loyalty in the process. The military and civilian strategic leaders who resource, plan and execute the strategy in Afghanistan are the only ones who enjoy a political mandate to do so — they have been appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for the purpose of making these weighty strategic judgments and decisions.

Finally, there are channels for officers such as Davis to make their observations and conclusions known to strategic decision-makers, in both the executive and legislative branches of government. If those decision-makers ignore the disclosed observations or make the wrong strategic decisions, they do so at their own peril. History will judge them and the political process will hold them accountable. Our system does not contemplate free electrons like Davis bouncing around creating havoc with no real strategic or political skin in the game.

Davis’ actions undermine the officer’s oath to support and defend the Constitution, and all the institutions and processes derived from that foundation. The accretion of damage like that occasioned by Davis’ article works mischief to the institution of officership.

— Lt. Col. Butch Bracknell, Marine Corps, Norfolk, Va.