By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe (dcrowe on DailyKos)
The latest general to find himself excoriated in the pages of Rolling Stone, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, should resign immediately for using psychological operations, commonly known as “psy-ops” against U.S. lawmakers visiting Afghanistan. If he will not resign immediately, President Obama should fire him.
Caldwell is one of the most pivotal military officers in President Obama’s failing escalation strategy in Afghanistan and is charged with training the Afghan National Security Forces. According to Rolling Stone, he pressured reluctant psy-ops personnel into putting their talents to use to try to manipulate lawmakers into providing more funds and troops for a war that Americans don’t support.
First of all, it doesn’t matter whether anything Caldwell tried succeeded in changing legislators’ minds. The use of funds and resources dedicated to psychological/information operations to influence any American citizens, much less those who control the purse strings for your pet project, is illegal on its face. It doesn’t matter if they used the most advanced techniques available to influence behavior or simply working on beefing up PowerPoint slides and handouts. If Caldwell directed people paid and trained out of the propaganda purse to help influence U.S. citizens, he broke the law. And breaking that law intentionally, even defiantly (his spokespeople reportedly shouted “It’s not illegal if I say it’s not!” when challenged.), is alone worthy of his dismissal.
Beyond the simple matter of a pivotal ISAF official breaking a very clear law even when he and his staff were made aware of their behavior’s illegality, Caldwell’s actions convey a dangerous and disturbing attitude towards Members of Congress and Senators. The Rolling Stone article reports that Caldwell wanted “pressure points” on lawmakers that he could “leverage” to “get inside their heads.” His staff wanted to know how they could “secretly manipulate” legislators “without their knowledge.” This behavior and mentality goes way beyond advocating for one’s preferred projects and policies. Caldwell in his staff seem to view the civilian branch of the government as a kind of target.
The alarming disrespect and aggression in Caldwell’s and his staff’s reported behavior may not have provided as many sensational quotes as those given by McChrystal and his staff prior to his canning, but their posture toward civilian control of the military is far, far worse. That posture comes with a serious amount of resources that could do real harm to our democracy. According to a 2009 report by the Associated Press,
This year  the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations -- almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department... [T]he Pentagon's rapidly expanding media empire... is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.
$547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.
Just for comparison, petroleum giant BP spent “only” $7.3 million on lobbying Congress last year. If behavior like Caldwell’s isn’t forcefully curtailed, the Pentagon could potentially spend well over 135 times that amount with a State-Department-sized specialized workforce to promote this ugly war that Americans don’t support, and our voices will be washed out of the democratic process.
Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign is calling for Caldwell’s immediate resignation (or firing, if he will not resign). If we can get 10,000 signatures, we’ll deliver the petition to Congress and the White House next week. With Congress out of session this week, it’s up to us to speak out on this before it gets swept off the front pages and under the rug. Please help us stand up to the misuse of our dollars on propaganda and sign our petition today.