No Battalion Command For YOU, Colonel! – The Case of LTC Matthew Dooley, Considered

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Army LTC. Matthew DooleyThe Army has removed the name of LTC Matthew Dooley from consideration for battalion command, despite excellent evaluations. The removal came at the behest of LTG Lloyd J. Austin, the vice chief of staff of the Army, overruling the recommendation of the battalion command selection board members.

Dooley was suspended from his duties as an instructor at National Defense University, where he taught an elective course called Perspectives on Islam and Radical Islamism, after a number of Muslim groups complained to the Department of Defense about the content of his courses.

At issue was a set of PowerPoint slides leaked to that contained a number of passages designed to get students to consider a horrendous hypothetical – total war against the Muslim world. According to leaked course documents, Dooley walked his students through a series of policy decisions which American planners could be faced with in the event of a complete breakdown in Western-Muslim relations. To wit:

This model presumes Geneva Convention IV 1949 standards of armed conflict and the pursuant UN endorsements of it are now, due to the current common practices of Islamic terrorists, no longer relevant or respected globally. This would leave open the option once again of taking war to a civilian population wherever necessary (the historical precedents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki being applicable to the Mecca and Medina destruction DP in Phase III…

…This model restates previous internationally-accepted Geneva Conventions for protections afforded to combatants captured in uniform and reiterates removal of protections for those who are caught fighting/operating out of uniform (spys [sic]. Terrorists, criminals.).

Against “non-state actors” do the Geneva conventions of 1949 now need redefinition/clarification?

Objections from numerous Muslim groups brought the course to the attention of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Patrick Dempsey, who shut the course down ordered a review of all DoD training materials on Islam and Islamism.

What has not been clear from most reporting on the subject – whether by the formidable Noah Schachtman and Spencer Ackerman at’s Danger Room blog, which first published the objectionable course material, nor from the major networks, nor from the outlying conservative press (Washington Times), nor the liberal press and blogosphere such as the Huffington Post, and nor from the press normally assigned to cover the military, such as Military Times and Tom Rick’s excellent blog at Foreign Policy, is a serious and fair-minded look at Dooley’s actual course materials that proved his undoing.

According to the Thomas More Law Center – a conservative leaning organization that has come to Dooley’s aid, “the characterization of the slides as positions officially advocated by LTC Dooley was totally inaccurate.” According to Dooley’s defenders at the Thomas More Law Center, the Danger Room blog published his content under sensational and misleading headlines that caused the Army to take action against Dooley.

Even assuming the worst of Danger Room, though, it is still encumbent on the Army and General Dempsey to make a full and fair investigation before taking negative action against an officer’s career.  But who was right? Was Dooley out of line with his potentially inflammatory rhetoric in his course? Was he at odds with established doctrine? Was he “academically irresponsible,” as General Dempsey has claimed?

Or was Dooley unfairly maligned as a result of an hypothetical-grounded academic exercise in policy-making that would normally be well within the purview of a high-level course designed to groom senior officers for future policy-making billets, in which they may have to deal with the explosion of the Muslim world against the West?

It is, of course, the policy of the United States that we are emphatically not at war with Islam, writ large. Indeed, the U.S. depends on moderate Muslim allies all over the world to help it attain its strategic objectives. The answer to whether Dooley was behaving responsibly appears to depend on the extent to which he was dealing with hypotheticals – IF there is a general and total war between Islam and the United States, THEN these are the kinds of policy decisions that will confront us.

Alternatively, it is plausible that Dooley was not dealing with a hypothetical general war between Islam, but was advocating a total war policy based on the current state of affairs. This conclusion seems to inform Gen. Dempsey’s actions, and would run counter to U.S. policy, though there is a counterargument that Dooley, as an academic, is entitled to the long established tradition of academic liberty and freedom of inquiry.

This is the position taken by the Thomas More Law Center, and explained in detail in their long letter linked above.

To Danger Room’s credit, however, they do link to a lengthier document that Dooley produced as part of the course, which can serve to illuminate our own inquiry. And in it, Dooley seems to anticipate “politically correct” criticism, and musters his own preemptive defense: How do we define the threat if we are not allowed to talk about it?

Again, a few pages later, Dooley asserts, “Political Correctness is Killing Us: How can we properly identify the enemy, analyze his weaknesses, and defeat him, if we are NEVER permitted to examine him from the most basic doctrinal level?”

Dooley then goes on to define Islamic jihadism in terms of its Quranic and Sharia origins – which are naturally origins that are not unique to the radical forms of Islam, but which inform all of it. 

The course material does not claim to represent U.S. doctrine. Indeed, Dooley clearly puts daylight between his own counter-jihad ops model and official U.S. policy. 

“The purpose of this model is to generate dynamic discussion and thought. The concepts considered herein are not the Official Policy of the United States Government or the DoD, nor are they in any part listed within the current NSS, NDS, QDR, QDDR or any official DoD document.”

While my more conservative readers would no doubt feel more comfortable with me excoriorating Big Army for a PC crackdown on an instructor leading students on a reasonable hypothetical exercise, it is not that cut-and-dried. It turns out that there was at least some reason for Dempsey’s ire: Dooley goes on to state something that the Army no doubt found hard to swallow:

“This model asserts Islam has already declared war on the West, and the United States specifically, as is demonstrable with over 30 years of violent history. It is, therefore, illogical to continue along our current global strategy models that presume there are always possible options for common ground and detent [sic] with the Muslim Umma without waging near “total war.”

This passage skews perilously close to an advocacy of total war, or “near total war,” not based on a hypothetical future war with the Muslim world, but on one which Dooley asserts already exists.

It is therefore difficult for Dooley to take refuge in the assertion that he was merely raising hypotheticals in a thought exercise. It also places the issue clearly within the purview of the Chief of Staff to assess, as a matter of officer training, though that does not negate the Thomas More Center’s assertion of academic privilege. The freedom to explore controversial and even offensive lines of inquiry is part and parcel of that long-established tradition, and a necessary element of high-level professional military education just as much as it is in other fields, and for the same reasons.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to dismiss Gen. Dempsey’s view as wholly unreasonable. 

It is, however, unfortunate that it is General Dempsey, of all officers, who is in the position to make this decision, because Dempsey is considered in some circles the Poster Boy for political generals who are so enthralled to politically correct assumptions that they cannot accurately assess the real threat before us. One need look no further than Dempsey’s reaction to the Fort Hood massacre, in which an American military officer and psychiatrist went on a murderous and jihad-inspired rampage that killed 13 people – all because Army personnel officers and Medical Service commanders refused to act on the obvious signs of Hasan’s increasing radicalization. There was no counterintelligence effort initiated that could have uncovered Hassan’s correspondence with foreign jihadists before the fact that could have allowed authorities to intervene and arrest Hasan for conspiracy before he killed anyone.

This, by itself, is evidence of a willful institutional PC blindness that illustrates Dooley’s assertion that “political correctness is killing us.”

But it didn’t stop there. Dempsey’s own statement after the Fort Hood massacre was deeply offensive to many within the military: “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse,” said Dempsey on CNN’s State of the Union talk show.

It was doubly offensive because a misguided commitment to tolerance of radicalized Muslims in the Army – or at least, a determined effort to look the other way – was a direct contributor to the deaths of these soldiers.

The result is potentially damaging to the military. “The result is certain.  Officers and instructors see what has happened to LTC Dooley, and will refrain from telling the truth about Islam or confronting the difficult strategic challenges facing our nation for fear of jeopardizing their professional careers,” wrote the Thomas More Institute. “The Pentagon has still apparently not learned from the politically correct policies that led to the Ft. Hood massacre.”



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