Lieutenant General William Caldwell, a rising star in the Army who formerly oversaw the training of Afghan security forces, was recently accused of impeding a 2010 investigation of corruption in the Afghan military medical corps to avoid affecting the outcome of congressional elections, as reported by Danger Room.
Caldwell, who now commands the U.S. Army North based in Texas, was supposedly worried that a revelation of mismanagement and neglect would hurt Democrats’ electoral chances, damaging the close rapport he enjoyed with Obama.
“He calls me Bill,” Caldwell is said to have told his officers. As Danger Room notes, his fears weren’t without basis; after all, General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his command for immature comments just a few months prior.
Caldwell’s relationship with the President Obama may be about to take a turn for the worse. But don’t count on the president taking much heat from the voters.
To begin, Americans don’t care much for foreign policy; in 2010, only 8 percent of voters even considered it when voting. The number of voters who would care about an investigation being launched into the foreign subordinates of a three-star general could probably be counted on one hand.
On top of that, most Americans who are plugged into foreign policy probably already knew Afghanistan’s government was corrupt. A simple LexisNexis search reveals more than 500 articles before the 2010 elections mentioning Ahmed Wali Karzai—the drug-lord and half brother of Afghanistan’s president—often in the context of his suspected illicit activities. What’s one mismanaged hospital in the wider scope of our state-building failures in Afghanistan?
Caldwell’s belief that corrupt Afghans under his mentorship would result in his punishment shows that he’s not quite in the big leagues in the sly game of politics. Almost two months earlier, The Wall Street Journal reported on the terrible conditions at the hospital, and Caldwell was left unscathed career-wise. Certainly, as Danger Room points out, “generals have seen their careers ended for much, much less”—from petty misbehavior in McChrystal’s case to an extramarital affair that led to the sacking of General Kevin Byrnes in 2005—but few in recent memory have seen their careers ended for more heinous offenses.
General McChrystal, for example, ultimately got off scot-free for his alleged complicity in the cover-up of the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman and use of brutal interrogation techniques advanced by Donald Rumsfeld. Despite having signed off on some of the illegal interrogation methods used at Abu Ghraib, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez was merely passed over for a promotion.
Despite opposing the war itself, most Americans approve of Obama’s record in Afghanistan. As was the case in 2010, this election is going to hinge on the economy. The only person likely to be hurt in this fiasco is Caldwell himself.