The Pentagon's Counterinsurgency Campaign in the Senate

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The Pentagon is conducting an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign in the Senate, having already pacified its allies on the Armed Services Committee. It's trying to prevent more senators from getting on board with a bill sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that would overhaul how the military deals with sexual assault by having an independent prosecutor, instead of the military commander, decide whom to court martial in sexual assault cases. This is how it works in the radical feminist organizations known as the militaries of Israel, Germany, and the U.K. The Pentagon wants this movement stopped.

A Pentagon inspector general report this week found that more than 10 percent of criminal investigations in sexual assault cases are flawed. That follows the survey this spring that found about 26,000 military members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. More than half the victims were men. Even so, the military does not want major changes to its criminal justice system. To stop demand for an overhaul, the Pentagon is trying to win the hearts and minds of senators with a massive lobbying campaign, Politico's Darren Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer explains in a fascinating report on the Pentagon's lobbying machine. The counterinsurgency campaign has already succeeded in winning over the Armed Services Committee. Committee chair Carl Levin shot down Gillibrand's bill, instead favoring one the military supports. How? First, the Pentagon had plenty of soldiers already in place:

  • Almost every single senator on the Armed Services Committee has a career military officer working as a fellow in their office, and his or her salary is paid by the Pentagon. A Democratic aide said of the fellows, "Things get vetted and there are bright lines you don’t cross and those are determined by the Pentagon." 
  • The Pentagon has office space close to the House and Senate armed services committees' offices in the Rayburn and Russell office buildings. No other bureaucracy has that.

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Then, there was the unprecedented lobbying campaign over the last three months. According to Politico, that included:

  • Pentagon lawyers meeting with senior lawmakers and their staff to stop Gillibrand's bill, including the Senate Armed Services Committee staff director and its top lawyer.
  • Increasing the number of in-person meetings with senators.
  • Plus, "even sending lawyers to negotiate, an unusual step, longtime Hill aides said."
  • And, Pentagon lawyers have sifted through compromise proposals, "nixing the ones viewed as cracking down too hard." 

Now it's time to broaden the campaign, as Gillibrand will bring the bill to the full Senate. The Pentagon has already won this battle once, in 2011, when sexual assault provisions were taken out of the defense bill. But on Tuesday, Conservative Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul signed on in support of Gillibrand's bill. So have other Republican senators. So military officials have been meeting with senators who don't sit on the Armed Services Committee and asking them to oppose Gillibrand's bill. The Pentagon wants a compromise backed by Levin, which would preserve military commanders' power to decide whether a sexual assault case goes to court-martial. If a commander disagreed with investigators over whether a case deserved prosecution, it would get kicked up the chain of command. And it stops a commander from overturning a jury conviction. These are steps Politico says the military was already taking.

While the Pentagon has worked very hard behind the scenes to stop Gilibrand's bill, it does not appear to have worked very hard on articulating the case against it. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote, "Conveyance of a message that commanders cannot be trusted will only serve to undermine good order and discipline." But when Israel, the U.K., and Germany took these reforms, their militaries did not fall apart. In a Senate hearing in June, Air Force Col. Jeannie Leavitt argued against Gillibrand's bill, saying senators should "allow a commander to command by allowing them to enforce the standards they set." But the whole problem is, commanders haven't been able to enforce those standards, even though they've had more than 20 years to do so since the Tailhook scandal.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.