Last fall, the Air Force nominated Col. Brian Hastings for promotion to Brigadier General. It was a deeply controversial selection given Hastings’ role in the “Miley Gate” scandal, wherein he used his authority to hound and punish a group of instructor pilots over the content of text messages seized from their private cellphones. At the time of the nomination, Congressmen Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) — two legislators who’d successfully held the Service to account during Miley Gate — vehemently objected to the nomination, calling on the Senate to reject it.
Now, the Senate has done just that.
After sitting idle on the nomination for more than three months, the Senate Armed Services Committee returned it to the President on January 3rd under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the standing rules. In plain English, that means they refused to even consider promoting Hastings. Speculatively, it likely means the Air Force did not successfully liaise with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and persuade him to give the issue a chance.
If the executive branch wants Hastings to be considered again, a fresh nomination must be sent to the Congress. But given that a new slate of Brigadier General nominations has already been forwarded without Hastings’ name, it would appear his promotion is dead in the water, and that the Air Force is no longer seeking to promote him.
Important to notice how the Air Force didn’t publicize the rejection at the time it occurred. This is because, as I suggested last fall, the nomination is politically costly for a Service already on thin ice with legislators over a range of conflicting priorities implicating the budget, social policy, discipline, morale, and Servicemember civil liberties. Efforting the promotion of one officer whose actions gave the Service a very public black eye is not a good way to get key legislators onside or clearly communicate priorities.
So why was he nominated? Well, he wasn’t nominated by the current Air Force. Hastings was selected for promotion before Gen. Dave Goldfein took over as Chief of Staff, and inheriting it was likely not something Goldfein relished as he sought to rebuild a battered force struggling to cope with myriad crises of morale and readiness. The nomination might have been little more than a farewell flipping of the bureaucratic bird by outgoing Chief of Staff Mark Welsh, who’d been publicly chastised and humiliated — with good cause — by critics of Miley Gate. Hunter in particular singled Welsh out for critique over the scandal on more than one occasion, and Welsh may have pushed Hastings for a star just to thumb his nose at Hunter and his ilk. After all, Welsh always did have trouble containing his temper, and his angst over being publicly pantsed by Congress time and again is an open secret in the Pentagon’s E-ring.
For all his faults, Hastings inspires loyalty in his close colleagues. Many of them have reached out to JQP to report what a good guy he is. The conceit of those messages is that he was trying to do the right thing, even if he overstepped his bounds in the attempt. While I buy that to a point, it doesn’t come close to excusing his actions. Even if he believed he was doing the right thing in the beginning, there had to have come a point — given his intelligence — that he knew he’d erred grievously. If that point arrived and he ignored it for the sake of his own career viability, he’s every bit as corrupt as his detractors allege. If that point never arrived, he lacked the humility to reflect on his actions earnestly when confronted with contrary evidence. This describes exactly the kind of officer who should not be made a general.
Had Hasting called off the witch hunt at that point, this story might have a happier ending. We might even be able to rationalize what Hastings did if he’s left the culture of his organization better than he found it or contributed to a constructive conversation about professional and unprofessional relationships in today’s Air Force.
But none of that happened. So as Hastings’ career is nailed shut, the best we’re going to get is a dismal but merciful end to a saga that ended too many careers and ruined too many lives.