So now that we’ve got the adventure of the Carrier Battle Group That Wasn’t Exactly An Armada Steaming To North Korea to think about, Rachel Maddow would like to remind us of another perplexing Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. Last Thursday, just before the latest salvo of nutso screaming at North Korea, The Hill quoted a very un-military-sounding person who claimed to be speaking for the Pentagon’s Central Command (CENTCOM) about the decision to drop that big beautiful “Mother of All Bombs,” the 21,600-pound GBU-43, on a cave and tunnel complex in Afghanistan. Maddow covered the story on her April 14 show, but thinks we ought to give it a second look in light of the Trump administration’s seeming confusion over where exactly a carrier battle group is. So let’s reconsider!
The “CENTCOM spokesman” in the Hill story doesn’t sound like any of the steely-eyed missile men you’d expect to deliver the official word from any part of the military. In fact, the unnamed source sounds more like some loon in an online comments thread. Asked why military planners used the MOAB, the “spokesman” said all this stuff, which doesn’t include any of the clipped phrasing and military jargon you’d usually get from the Pentagon:
[It’s] the type of weapon for the type of target.
This has been a very difficult area; they’re tunneled into the ground in hardened bunkers and they’re actually leading a lot of attacks on U.S. and partner nation forces […]
When you have a very large beehive, a little flyswatter may not work, so finally you take out the big stuff. We just found a huge beehive and we have to use something more than the fly swatter.
Asked if the non-nuclear mega-weapon was chosen not only for the specific mission parameters (see? WE can do better Pentagon-ese than this guy!), the putative spokesdude was again remarkably informal in tone: “Absolutely, we mean business.” He also explained — very unlike a military person — that Donald Trump was wisely ignoring that dumb principle of civilian control of the military:
“It’s empowering the commanders and winning the war against the bad guys,” the spokesman said. “In this administration, the military is given empowerment to do what we need to do.”
And on Gettin’ Tough against our enemies? Oh, yeah, we are rockin’ and rollin’, said the “spokesman”:
“We have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done a job as usual so we have given them total authorization,” he told reporters on Thursday. “And that’s what they’re doing. And, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.” […]
“We mean business,” the CENTCOM spokesman said. “President Trump said prior that once he gets in he’s going to kick the S-H-I-T out of the enemy. That was his promise and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
He added: “Afghanistan has, for a little while, been the forgotten war but there’s a lot of action over there, there’s a lot of dangers. If we’re going to be engaged in a war we’re going to be engaged in a conflict to win, period.”
Finally, there was this completely uncharacteristic comment on whether there were any civilian casualties: “I can guarantee that we on the target assessment made sure that there’s nothing in the area, that it’s pure enemy[.]” Nope. No real military spokesman ever guarantees anything, especially not when it comes to civilian casualties, which are always addressed as things we take every effort to avoid or minimize, and which are regrettable if they happen, but never, ever “guaranteed” to not have occurred. That’s Pentagon 101.
The day after the Hill story ran, CENTCOM issued this statement:
Maddow commented, “I’ve never seen anything quite like this from DOD,” but we assume she means the content — apologizing for a fake spokesman — not the style. It at least sounds like a genuine press release coming from a genuine goddamned military bureaucracy, with names and ranks and the attendant jargon of a bureaucratic semi-apology. Maddow added in subsequent tweets, however, that “CENTCOM never explained who it was that gave that statement as if they were a spokesman (We asked, they wouldn’t say).”
She also notes the “that guy wasn’t speaking for us” retraction doesn’t appear on the CENTCOM website where its press releases are usually posted, and that the release number on the emailed statement actually belongs to a completely different press release that has nothing to do with Afghanistan or the communications SNAFU.
Maddow — or an MSNBC social media intern who has been trained to sound terrifyingly like her — sums up (we’ll copypaste several tweets for efficiency):
So: now we’ve got a DOD statement that someone said things to a reporter that DOD disavows, but we don’t know who the person was. Nor do we know the circumstances of why or how someone was pretending to be a CENTCOM spokesman for a day. And the release copping to this odd event is not publicly posted and it’s coded with a release number that belongs to something else.
This is mostly just weird. But (a) I’ve never seen anything like it before, and (b) DOD should explain the fake spox thing.
So who the hell is the mystery spox? Yr Editrix and several folks on the Twitter machine think it sounds unsettlingly like obnoxious dead-eyed Trump spokes-beeste Stephen Miller, who is fluent in fact-free Trumpian duckspeak. The Trump-fluffing of those statements to The Hill certainly have a whiff of SM to them. Other tweeters speculated it might have been Donald Trump himself, reprising his role as official Trump Spokesman “John Miller” or “John Barron.” We’re less inclined to believe that one, since the sentences are, you know, sentences, even if they’re nonsensical. Not a single “Believe me,” either.
In any case, we’re sure this is a mystery that will eventually be made clear in a future leak, since members of the Trump administration are even less able to hold things in than the lady who tows around a toilet on a rope in that ad for Irritable Bowel Syndrome medication. Be sure you watch Maddow in the next few days — you’ll see plenty on both.
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