- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Defense Department continues to duck the hard questions about the Fort Hood massacre. As many as eight Army officers might take the fall for not reporting Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s abnormal behavior in the years leading up to his Nov. 5 terrorist rampage. But as Bill Gertz reported yesterday on the front page of The Washington Times, fear of being perceived as insensitive played a critical role in those officers keeping Maj. Hasan in the force. There’s no sign the military’s politically correct climate is about to change.

On Friday, while discussing the results of the Defense Department’s investigation of the Fort Hood terrorist attack, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates noted that personnel management systems are “generally organized to withhold and compartmentalize troubling information about individuals, as opposed to sharing it with the people and leaders who need to know.” But what one person perceives as troubling behavior might be another person’s expression of cherished religious beliefs. Maj. Hasan was exhibiting signs of a radical jihadist orientation that were frighteningly obvious to those around him, but they were unwilling to take the necessary action because they might have faced an official backlash.

“One of the core functions of leadership is assessing the performance and fitness of people honestly and openly,” Mr. Gates said. “Failure to do so, or kicking the problem to the next unit or the next installation, may lead to damaging if not devastating consequences.” This sounds nice, but it’s well understood in the defense establishment that honest and open assessments of the fitness of some personnel is a guaranteed ticket to potentially career-ending controversy. The system encourages passing the buck.

Maj. Hasan might have been weeded out early in his career had he not been both a member of an ethnic minority group and a Muslim. The government’s equal-opportunity system creates tremendous burdens for commanders and administrators who give negative performance reviews to people in protected classes. It is a simple matter for the unscrupulous underperformer to file a series of complaints against his or her rater, charging racism, sexism or sexual harassment, religious persecution or whatever is convenient given the malcontent’s circumstances. Because the system must investigate every charge, genuine and bogus claims receive the same amount of attention and impose the same burdens on the guilty and innocent alike.

Equal-opportunity charges mean paperwork, interviews and endless meetings. They are a drain on productivity and morale. It can take months or years for complaints to be fully investigated and closed. Anyone with an open complaint being investigated cannot be promoted until the matter is resolved. Officers attempting to impose high standards can be stigmatized as troublemakers after facing a flurry of retributive and baseless charges. Officers such as Maj. Hasan who exhibit odd and dangerous behavior but are members of minority groups are passed on with good evaluations because it’s easier than doing the right thing.

Political correctness continues to dominate official military thinking. The released version of the Fort Hood report does not refer to Islamic extremism, and Mr. Gates refuses to describe the massacre as an act of terrorism. The message to the force is that nothing has changed; keep your head down, continue to pass the buck and hope it doesn’t stop with you. The consequences are deadly.

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