“This could be war in the Middle East. It’s serious. And now, you’ve got to realize what this president has done to our military. And our military is so degraded now. It’s not just me who says this. I want to read one quote by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General [Martin] Dempsey. He said, ‘Our military force is so degraded and unready, it would be immoral to use force.’ That’s exactly what they are talking about doing — is using force.”
–Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), interview on Fox News, Sept. 1, 2013
“We can send in 30 cruise missiles. That’s not a problem. If that precipitates a real active war in the Middle East… if we have to follow up with a crisis, that’s what we can’t do. We are not in a position. This isn’t just me talking. You’ve heard me quote General Dempsey, who’s the chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said, ‘We are putting our military on a path where our force is so degraded, so unready and that it would be immoral to use force.’ That’s my point.”
–Inhofe, interview on MSNBC, Sept. 12
“If you’re talking about sending 30 cruise missiles in, that’s easy. That doesn’t cost anything. That’s a very easy thing to do. What I’m saying is that you don’t do that without — as they say, that would be an act of war in the Middle East. Let me read you one quote. This is from General Dempsey, the chairman of Joints Chief of Staff who agrees with me. He says, ‘Our military force is so degraded, so unready, it would be immoral to use force.’”
–Inhofe, interview on CNN, Sept. 12
Appearing on live television is not as easy as it looks. So The Fact Checker has some sympathy for politicians who sometimes have bungled their talking points.
But these statements by Sen. Inhofe pose an interesting dilemma. Only one (on MSNBC) gets close to Dempsey’s original statement, while two leave a misleading impression. In all three instances, Inhofe pulls out a piece of paper and appears to be quoting directly from Dempsey, which gives his citation an appearance of authority on live television. Yet the MSNBC and CNN interviews were done back to back, which suggests Inhofe merely slipped up, as opposed to deliberately intending to mislead.
As our colleagues at FactCheck.org have noted, this is Dempsey’s original statement, said during a Feb. 12 hearing on the budget in response to questions from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) concerning the impact of the budget cuts mandated by sequestration:
Dempsey, Feb. 12: Well, your point is a good one. Look, none of us walk away or run away from a crisis or a fight. You know, that is not our nature. But I will tell you personally if ever the force is so degraded and so unready and then we are asked to use it, it would be immoral to use the force unless it is well trained, well led, and well equipped.
Graham: Are we on the path to creating that dilemma?
Dempsey: We are on that path.
The key phrase there is “on that path.” But those words are missing two of three times that Inhofe appeared to quote Dempsey verbatim, after he pulled out a piece of paper and read from it:
“Our military force is so degraded and unready, it would be immoral to use force.” (Fox)
“We are putting our military on a path where our force is so degraded, so unready and that it would be immoral to use force.” (MSNBC)
“Our military force is so degraded, so unready, it would be immoral to use force.” (CNN)
Inhofe’s spokeswoman, Donelle Harder, suggested that it would be incorrect to display these quotes with quotation marks because Inhofe was only intending to offer a paraphrase. (Her point is that Inhofe did not say “and I quote.”) We would disagree, given that Inhofe appears to be reading directly from a document when he quotes Dempsey.
To top it off, Inhofe’s office displayed the Fox News interview on his You Tube channel with this headline: “Inhofe: U.S. Military Not Resourced for War.”
Harder says that this is based on Inhofe’s inside knowledge on the state of the U.S. military, drawn from classified briefings. She said that Inhofe agrees that the military is capable of conducting a limited strike, as Dempsey has said in more recent testimony on Syria, but Inhofe is concerned the military is not capable of waging broader Middle East conflict. (In any case, the prospects of even a limited U.S. strike have diminished with the recent U.S.-Russian plan on securing and eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.)
“The headline doesn’t rest on the Dempsey quote as you suggest, but on what the senator is being briefed from the DOD on a regular bases – classified information on the readiness rate of our military which has shrunk greatly since February,” Harder said. “As the senator has pointed out many times in hearings and statements — apart from using the Dempsey quote — our military is stretched incredibly thin and not resourced for another war when you include ongoing involvements in all our other global commitments. Could we enter one should that be the president’s decision? Yes, but it will be at greater risks than we would have faced prior to the sequester.”
Harder also notes that Inhofe correctly cited Dempsey in a Sept. 10 opinion article for U.S. News and World Report. In the article, Inhofe put quotation marks around “so degraded and so unready” and “immoral to use the force” while noting the context that the military was “on a path” to that situation.
The Pinocchio Test
Dempsey, publicly at least, has said the U.S. military is capable of conducting a strike in Syria. In two instances, Inhofe draws on a quote from months ago to make it appear as if the president’s chief military adviser actually agrees with Inhofe that such an intervention is a mistake.
But two other times, in an interview and in an opinion article, Inhofe places the quote in a proper context. As readers know, we don’t try to play gotcha here, but Inhofe does appear to be reading from a piece of paper, which makes it all the more puzzling that he drops the crucial words “on a path” in two televised interviews.
So we are going to award him One Pinocchio-and suggest he send a note of apology to Dempsey for misquoting him on live television. A .333 batting average might be great in baseball, but politicians need to do better than that.
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker