The U.S. Navy is undergoing an embarrassing situation as a growing number of senior officers are being investigated in a widespread corruption scandal. This involves a civilian firm, GDMA (Glenn Defense Marine Asia) which, for over a decade, used corrupt navy officers and officials to obtain contracts (to supply and service navy ships in foreign ports throughout the Pacific) and overcharge the navy for these services. GDMA got away with this by getting officials involved with investigations to alert GDMA if auditors were close to discovering a specific GDMA scam and GDMA would clean up their records to survive the audit. This began to fall apart in 2010 when investigators finally got hints that something was going on. In late 2013 the investigation was revealed and indictments began. At the same time more senior officers were identified as under investigation. That, in turn, led to some strange side-effects. Two of those identified as being investigated a year ago were the head of Naval Intelligence and his deputy. These two are still “under investigation” but not charged. When the navy was told these two were being looked at the Justice Department said it would charge them or drop the investigation within a few weeks. But now, a year later, the two officers are still “under investigation” and still in their jobs. The problem is that when you are “under investigation” your security clearance is suspended. For the head of Naval Intelligence this is a serious problem, since most of the materials the senior people in Naval Intelligence work with require a security clearance to look at. The navy refuses to comment on the matter. Thus there is no explanation as to why the two officers were not temporarily reassigned until they got their security clearances back and why the navy is allowing its intelligence branch to be crippled by the inaction of senior navy commanders. Corruption like this has also been showing up in the air force and army. That and the timid senior leadership are both symptoms of a larger problem.
Since the end of the Cold War the American military has undergone a decline in the quality of its senior leadership. This has manifested itself in many ways. For example there were all those opinion surveys of lower and mid-rank officers who said they were leaving the military because they had no confidence in the character or ability of their superiors. Thus the current GDMA scandal and gridlock inside Naval Intelligence does not surprise many lower ranking sailors, or former navy officers who left because of this sort of thing.
The primary manifestations of this decline in leadership has been the spread of political correctness and the policy of “zero tolerance” among officers. Many young officers feel the navy as a whole has become more obsessed with political correctness and zero tolerance thinking than in actually getting ready for combat and looking after their subordinates. Senior leadership was dismayed to discover that this has been destroying morale and team spirit in the lower officer and enlisted ranks. The senior commanders imposed these morale-busting measures because of political pressure from above and the politicians have no sympathy for commanders who can’t order their unhappy subordinates to just carry on. All that just feeds into another problem. The military, especially the navy, is very picky about who its lets join and the average sailor and naval officer is smarter, healthier and a better worker than their civilian counterparts. Thus these navy personnel always have an easier time getting jobs, especially when the economy is picking up. Sensing that the navy is all about “efficient administration” rather than preparing for combat, a growing number of the people the navy wants to keep are getting out and taking a civilian job. This seems more and more appealing and the senior leadership has been unable to deal with it. All this has created an atmosphere of distrust among junior officers, who see senior navy leadership as very flawed.
The "zero tolerance" atmosphere that has permeated the navy since the end of the Cold War has led to some really harmful practices. For examples officers are often directed to take direct control of supervisory duties the chiefs (Chief Petty Officers) used to handle. This deprived the navy of the experience and management skills of these senior NCOs while demoralizing junior officers and chiefs alike.
Another big problem with the "zero tolerance" policy is that one mistake can destroy a career. This was not the case in the past. Many of the outstanding admirals of World War II would have never survived in today's navy. For example, Bill "Bull" Halsey ran his destroyer aground during World War I, but his career survived the incident. That is no longer the case. It's also well to remember that, once World War II began, there was a massive removal of peacetime commanders from ships. The peacetime evaluation system selected officers who were well qualified to command ships in peacetime but not in wartime. There was a similar pattern with admirals. The latest mess with GDMA tells lots of sailors and officers that not much progress has been made in dealing with the rot.
Meanwhile the army, which has seen a lot more combat since 2001 than the air force or navy, is also having problems with political correctness. This was most obvious when army doctor Nidal Malik Hasan got away with committing an act of Islamic terrorism because of political correctness. Major Nidal Malik Hasan's murder of 13 people at Fort Hood on November 5th 2009 was the act of an Islamic terrorist. But the U.S. government initially tried to explain it as just the act of a lone madman and call it workplace violence, not Islamic terrorism. Of course this is what terrorist attacks often are; acts of loners and carried out at work. Meanwhile the investigation of Hasan revealed that he had not made a secret of his beliefs and that many of his peers, subordinates and superiors had complained about Hasan's Islamic radical beliefs. But nothing was done because of political correctness.
The army responded to all this by deciding to punish nine officers for not doing anything about a terrorist in their midst. There was a problem with this in that the army said it was going to hold accountable the officers who were in a position to do something about Hasan, before he killed 13 people. But none of the nine officers targeted were generals, and those punished received, at worst, a letter of reprimand. This hurt their chances of promotion but not much else. The officers that created and tolerated the atmosphere of political correctness that led to Hasan acting on his Islamic terrorist attitudes were never even mentioned.
The army did little to change the atmosphere of political correctness that underpinned most of the bad decisions that enabled Hasan to stay in uniform, and even get promoted. In the army, as in any large organization, all the rules are not written down. In the army, many of the unwritten rules come in the form of "the commanders' intent." Sometimes this "intent" is spelled out, but in many cases, subordinate commanders have to figure it out. In the Hasan case, the commanders' intent was that Moslem officers, especially doctors, are to be kept happy and in uniform. When in doubt, look the other way, and hope for the best. In the case of Hasan, no one expected the guy to turn into a mass murderer. But, then, Hasan's superiors were encouraged to be optimistic about their Moslem problem child. So Hasan's radical rants and abusive behavior towards non-Moslems was, if not ignored, then played down.
After the murders Hasan was prosecuted. By mid-2013 Hasan was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. But he will be around for a while as his legal appeals make their way through the courts. Meanwhile Hasan has praised ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria) and has asked for ISIL to declare him a citizen of their new Islamic State.
So the commanders who followed the commanders' intent regarding Hasan got letters of reprimand for going along with the program, and being unlucky. While raises the question. What about the other Hasans? Is Major Nidal Malik Hasan the only Moslem who got a pass because of commanders’ intent? Do you think chastising nine officers is going to solve the problem? To a certain extent it is. Because of Hasan, the commanders’ intent regarding Moslem officers has been modified. If there's a chance a Moslem officer might be a mass murderer, there should at least be discussions about possibly taking action.
What many in the military are seeing is the spread of corruption among senior officers who use political correctness and zero tolerance has an excuse for bad behavior and an excuse to avoid doing nothing about the problem. It’s a toxic environment that benefits no one.