Secrecy News

IG Reports on Wars Abroad Unaffected by Trump Rebuke

In apparent disregard of criticism from President Trump, two new Inspector General reports on aspects of the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq were openly published this week.

“What kind of stuff is this?” the President had complained at a January 2 cabinet meeting. “We’re fighting wars, and they’re doing reports and releasing it to the public? Now, the public means the enemy. The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it. Those reports should be private reports. Let him do a report, but they should be private reports and be locked up.”

Despite that rebuke, however, the reports produced this week were published as usual.

There was no basis for a change. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), no policy directive implementing the President’s remarks last month was ever generated, and so the continuing release of SIGAR reports has not been affected.

The latest SIGAR report finds that DoD is delivering more military helicopters to the Afghan Air Force than can be used. “Based on the current UH-60 delivery schedule, it is unlikely that there will be enough pilots trained before all 159 UH-60s are delivered. DOD runs the risk of wasting U.S. taxpayer dollars to purchase aircraft the AAF and SMW [Afghan security forces] cannot fly or maintain.” See the report here.

Meanwhile, another DoD Inspector General report released this week finds that “ISIS remains a potent force of battle-hardened and well-disciplined fighters” — a finding that is at odds with the President’s public remarks. A classified appendix to the IG report that was not released addressed topics such as “ISIS Retains its Military Capabilities [in Syria] Despite Loss of Territory” and “Iran Strikes ISIS in Syria.” That report is here.

The bureaucracy’s indifference to the President’s objections is remarkable. Philosophers of language (following J.L. Austin) speak of “performative utterances,” meaning speech that not only describes but transforms the reality under discussion. When a judge or clergyman declares “I now pronounce you man and wife,” for example, that statement actually effects a change in the status of the couple to whom it is addressed.

Likewise, one might have expected the strictures on publication uttered by the President — who is the chief executive and commander-in-chief of the armed forces and who was speaking in an official capacity before his own subordinates — to have this sort of performative quality and to alter agency conduct in the way he prescribed.

But that is not what happened. The President’s remarks were not connected to any policy apparatus that might have put them into effect. And so they were inconsequential.