The Inquisition of General Caldwell
How a soldier without honor and a sleazy journalist cooked up a story against one of our finest generals.


Jim Lacey

When Holmes was asked to put together background info on visiting VIPs, he rebelled. This was not what he had come to Afghanistan for. He obviously found it beneath his rank and station in life to do work typically assigned to a junior staff officer. He wanted to “stare at goats,” and the establishment wanted him to prepare background briefings.

It should be understood that whenever a VIP is scheduled to visit a three-star general, a background folder is created. It would be the height of incompetence for a general’s staff to allow their boss to walk into a meeting unprepared. It also appears to make sense to give such tasks to people who otherwise don’t have an assigned function, such as the IO team. The fact that an IO officer is assigned the job of creating a background briefing does not mean he was told to use IO techniques in the process. In fact, if there were a command-ordered IO campaign to bend the minds of U.S. senators, there would be an IO plan. IO officers do not do anything without writing out a plan — ever. It is in their DNA. Someone should ask Holmes to present the dated IO plan for this “command-ordered” operation — with the associated PowerPoint presentation. For it is well known within the military that if there is no PowerPoint trail, there is no event!

One might also ask: Why would Caldwell target the specific senators mentioned in Hastings’s article, as they already were on his side? As Senator Levin said in a press statement: “For years, I have strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation’s future. I have never needed any convincing on this point. Quite the opposite, my efforts have been aimed at convincing others of the need for larger, more capable Afghan security forces, and that we and NATO should send more trainers to Afghanistan, rather than more combat troops.”

And does anyone believe Senators McCain and Lieberman needed further coaxing toward the light? Moreover, consider the utter absurdity of playing IO games on someone like Senator McCain. For over five years the North Vietnamese used torture and every psychological trick in the book to break McCain. They failed. So let’s face facts: The only way the barely trained and apparently incompetent Holmes could have gotten into McCain’s head was if the senator ate him for breakfast.

From what is in evidence so far, we know that an ineffectual officer with a serious axe to grind was sent home from Afghanistan in disgrace. Once back here, he lashed out by going to the press with a story that any real journalist would have picked apart in minutes. Hastings, displaying the journalistic ethics of a louse, decided to take the uncorroborated word of a single discredited officer to slime the reputation of one of America’s best and most dedicated warriors. Worse, he did so when that warrior was helping to turn around a dire situation in Afghanistan.

General Caldwell is our exit strategy. By making his job harder, Holmes and Hastings have guaranteed that soldiers and Marines will be unnecessarily killed. We must all hope that Holmes and Hastings fail. Caldwell is doing crucial work and succeeding in a very tough assignment. He remains one of our best hopes for a successful ending to the war in Afghanistan. His efforts must not be derailed because a single soldier without honor has found a journalist who has no concept of honor to help him seek revenge.

— Jim Lacey is professor of strategic studies at the Marine War College and author of the forthcoming book The First Clash. The opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the opinions of the Department of Defense or its leadership.