Rep. Steve Israel, reportedly a psy-ops target

Rep. Steve Israel, reportedly a psy-ops target Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

Americans aren't getting too worked up about the assertion that the man in charge of our training Afghan troops, Gen. William Caldwell, used soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting politicians.

According to the recently published report in Rolling Stone magazine, the goal was to get the politicians to support more troops and funding for the war, and targets included Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Long Island's own Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills).

It's almost as if, in the wake of November's elections, the nation is thinking: "We watched campaign commercials for 11 months and we should feel bad that while they were trying to brainwash us, the military was trying to brainwash them? Good. I hope they all got hypnotized and skipped through Kabul naked, singing Helen Reddy songs and mooing."

Caldwell is accused of having his officers create detailed profiles of visiting politicians and strategies to persuade those politicians to get behind a bigger effort in Afghanistan. That's exactly what public affairs officers do with lawmakers in war zones, but when soldiers assigned to propaganda and psychological operations do it, it's illegal.

It is against the law for the U.S. government to direct propaganda techniques toward American citizens. The line, though, between spinnish convincing and manipulation is about as easy to see as eight-pound-test fishing line, tied between two trees, in the dark. That kind of line will trip you.

And the accusations against Caldwell are coming mostly from officers serving under him who say they refused to work their psy-ops voodoo on the politicians and have since been retaliated against. Caldwell says the officers were never asked to do anything wrong, have had job-related problems and are creating these accusations to retaliate against the Army for the poor marks in their files.

It can be so hard to tell the disgruntled from the gruntled.

McCain said in a television interview he is "skeptical" that anything wrong was done. Israel said he always takes these briefings with a grain of salt, adding, "I never had a sense that I was in a sequel to 'The Manchurian Candidate.' "

It's hard to believe these guys were brainwashed much differently than they are by every government agency that wants more support, but it is fun to imagine creating the files and plans.

Franken is fairly new to the Senate. The greatest window we have into his soul is his most famous creation from "Saturday Night Live": Stuart Smalley, an affable, effete self-help guru. Psychologically, Franken is Smalley and Smalley is Franken. Therefore our strategy will be to keep repeating to Franken this phrase: "Hamid Karzai is good enough to lead a free Afghanistan, he's smart enough to lead a free Afghanistan and doggone it, people like him."

And I can just see the dossier for McCain:

Likes: Political inconsistency, showering the military with resources, comprehensive immigration reform.

Dislikes: Comprehensive immigration reform, any mention of Alaska.

How we can convince McCain to support giving the military more troops and money in Afghanistan to support the mission: Just ask politely. How hard can it be? HE'S JOHN McCAIN!!!

If brainwashing techniques, or even inappropriate personnel, were used to influence our politicians, punishment needs to be meted out, but it's hard not to grin at the role reversal.

After all, politicians have been brainwashing soldiers into doing their bidding since the day after politics was invented.

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