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April 29, 2011

The Trouble with Petraeus Pt. 2
Posted by Michael Cohen

So I hadn't quite realized how unpopular David Petraeus was in Pakistan until I read this piece in the New York Times today:

The appointment of Gen. David H. Petraeus as director of the Central Intelligence Agency puts him more squarely than ever in conflict with Pakistan, whose military leadership does not regard him as a friend and where he will now have direct control over the armed drone campaign that the Pakistani military says it wants stopped.

Pakistani and American officials said that General Petraeus’s selection could further inflame relations between the two nations, which are already at one of their lowest points, with recriminations over myriad issues aired publicly like never before.

The usually secretive leader of the Pakistani Army, Gen.Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has made little secret of his distaste for General Petraeus, calling him a political general.

Now it almost goes without saying that the CIA's relationship with Pakistan is the most important US agency relationship to any other country in the world. And on a good day, that relationship stinks (a situation only further inflamed by the Davis incident and Pakistan's general disinclination to do anything helpful for the United States in regard to the war Afghanistan and fighting al Qaeda). But it does beg the question, will the Petraeus selection make that relationship better or worse?

Now in a sense perhaps we shouldn't dwell on the issue. After all, the US relationship with Pakistan is in terrible shape and I genuinely don't think there is a good way to improve upon it unless we dramatically shift US strategy in Afghanistan. But if Petraeus is being picked in part because of his knowledge of the operational arts; if those operational arts are most relevant when it comes to the US relationship with Pakistan and in particular the fight against al Qaeda; and if Petraeus is mistrusted by the Pakistanis . . . well then what exactly is the value added of putting Petraeus in the DCI job? I'm not asking the question in jest; behind some fuzzy notion of "leadership" I'm at a loss in understanding why Petraeus is the best person for the job, especially since there seem to be a number of indicators that would point to him being the wrong man (not to mention the fact that it's impossible to believe that anyone at the White House actually trusts him).

Aha, but perhaps I've missed David Petraeus's most obvious attribute - over to you Mr. President:

I'm also very pleased that Leon's work at the CIA will be carried on by one of our leading strategic thinkers and one of the finest military officers of our time, General David Petraeus. 

Petraeus is one of our leading strategic thinkers? Interesting. Now clearly generals occasionally show some level of strategic enlightenment. Eisenhower comes to mind; so to does George Marshall, even Colin Powell for a brief moment - but field commanders? Isn't Petraeus's greatest skill on the tactical level? Where has he shown great strategic thinking? As a person who thought (among others) that the US not only could, but should conduct armed social work and nation building in Afghanistan, well I'm not sure that "great strategic thinker" is the description that comes to mind.

So aside from the obvious political advantage of keeping Petraeus inside the tent I'm just having hard time seeing why Petraues got picked . . . unless of course the political advantage is the reason why. But who would ever accuse the Obama Administration of putting the politics of foreign policy ahead of actual foreign policy decision-making?

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Comments

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A "great strategic thinker" would have chosen CT, not COIN.

I don't think Petraeus is one of our leading strategic thinkers.

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During the Cold War, the C.I.A. established itself as key, if clandestine, element in America's foreign policy apparatus, promoting coups in countries like Iran, Guatemala and others seen as sliding toward the embrace of the Soviet Union. Its biggest debacle in that era was the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, in which a C.I.A.-trained band of Cuban exiles were cut down on the beaches after President John F. Kennedy refused air support for a military operation that was generally regarded afterward as poorly planned and unrealistic. But the next year it was the C.I.A. that provided the intelligence that tipped American officials off to the Soviet effort to install missiles in Cuba missiles that were removed after President Kennedy stared down Nikita Krushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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