Democracy Arsenal

« Our Wonderful Af/Pak Allies | Main | The Trouble with Petraeus Pt. 2 »

April 28, 2011

The Trouble With Petraeus
Posted by Michael Cohen

So I'm still having a hard time getting my head around the fact that President Obama has chosen David Petraeus to be his new director of central intelligence. Was Joe Lieberman busy? Here's someone who became a public advocate, rather than advisor, during presidential deliberations on Afghanistan policy; someone who misled the President about the ability of the military to turn things over to the Afghan security forces by the summer 2011 and someone who repeatedly used media leaks and public media appearances to advocate for a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan that by all accounts is failing spectacularly. 

I mean I understand the concept of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, but this is sort of ridiculous.

This issue, notwithstanding, my concern about this move is two-fold: one is that it continues the further militarization of our intelligence agencies, away from intel gathering to covert operations; and second I fear for the impact on Afghanistan policy.

On the first point, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti have a smart article on how these moves continue the process of basically turning the agency into a militarized, operational arm of the Pentagon. So not only do you have someone at Langley who seems to be a big advocate of special operations; but you put someone at DoD (Leon Panetta) who built up the covert action capability at the CIA. Hard to imagine that either will suddenly slow down the cooperation between the two agencies on this front. And if one of the goals of the Obama Administration was to shift attention away from terrorism as the focus of US foreign policy I'm not sure how giving top national security jobs to the guy who built up the CIA's clandestine service over the past two years and the guy who managed the last two American wars achieves that goal. If anything it ensures that two of the Administration's top strategic thinkers (and I use those words guardedly) will have an intimate and perhaps overweening focus on terrorism as the focal point point of US national security policy.

Also it's worth remembering here that the CIA is primarily a civilian, espionage agency - not a hornet's nest of covert ops (no matter what Hollywood movies might tell you). How is Petraeus going to fare in that part of the job; managing the CIA's intel gathering mandate?  Maybe this is the direction that the Administration wants to take the agency, but it does raise the very serious question of whether the Petraeus's likely focus on military operations and cooperation with DoD will have a deleterious impact on the intel-gathering part of the CIA's mandate. Does Petraeus have any track record of being able to effectively manage this fairly significant aspect of what the CIA does? Might be a question worth exploring at this confirmation hearings.

On Afghanistan, there is another more serious concern. While I am glad to see Petraeus out of day-to-day management of the war (if only because it would theoretically allow the White House to establish more control over the mission) I do wonder about the impact on the future of that policy.

Today there is something of a divide in the Obama Administration between those who think the time has come to being political reconciliation with the Taliban - and a more influential group that believes military pressure against the Taliban must be maintained and that the time is not right for negotiations. It appears, from the outside, that Petraeus comes down on the latter camp; believing that continued pressure will wring eventual concessions out of the Taliban.

It's worth asking what effect this will have on analysis about Afghanistan with the agency. Knowing that Petraeus is an advocate for a very specific policy choice in Afghanistan could have a potentially chilling effect on analysts in the agency. After all, there is some evidence that Petraeus has weighed in heavily on these matters in the past (the White House's December Af/Pak review comes to mind). How this affects the tenor and tone of intelligence analysis that gets passed up the chain of command to the White House and elsewhere is not an insignificant issue. It seems for the sake of Afghanistan policy that it might be better if the person in charge at Langley didn't have his thumb on the scale.

In the end, the White House seems to be adopting the view that it's better to have Petraues inside the tent pissing out, then pissing in. But there is a cost for doing so - and I'm not sure that the White House fully appreciates it.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Trouble With Petraeus:


All fair questions, but isn't it true that it is better to have Petraeus in the tent, not the least for the intelligence, talent and knowledge he brings to the issues?

The DoD will begin to leave Afghanistan in the next two years, while the CIA will increase its presence. It only makes sense to put the commander of the war effort in charge of the organization running the show.

P4 will militarize the CIA. And forget about a magical rapproachment with Taliban. The only thing you will hear from Afghani or Pakistani Taliban will be "God! Please! Stop!"

The only thing you will hear from Afghani or Pakistani Taliban will be "God! Please! Stop!"

I Agreed with what you have said and this blog has helped me a lot to better understand legal and judicial issues and its related issues.


The CIA is needed as an agency to do two things well a) clandestinity - collections and influence, and b) covert ops we don't want a US official signature on. Otherwise, there's no reason for it to exist at all.

The CIA does tons of analysis but frankly, so can a lot of ppl. Having the CIA do reporting - which is what the CIA management hierarchy prefers to do as it is politically low risk, OSINT heavy, desk driven, quantifiable, busy work - is a waste of resources in an ostensibly clandestine agency. 60 % of CIA personnel should be out in the field, with half of those not under diplo cover, not sitting in cubicles inside the states. If they want to do reporting, the New York Times is hiring.

If Petraeus makes the CIA more like the OSS and less like INR then he's served his purpose

Mizuno Corporation is a Japanese sports equipment manufacturer, which was established in 1906. Nowadays, Mizuno
develops so fast that it gets large numbers of loyal consumers, especially those sports lovers. For example, the players who love tennis, football, baseball, skiing, hiking and cycling can get satisfaction from Mizuno products. The company also has expanded its operation centres opening new factories in Germany, France, China PR, Scotland and Hong Kong. What's more, Mizuno products are selling very well in the overseas market. If necessary, please seek for much more related information. (xu)

An article in Rolling Stone, "Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators," certainly gives one pause to letting Petreaus "run" the CIA (in addition to the well made points above). It could become as "cowboy" as ever if he runs organizations as loosely as this. (Tim Weiner's "Legacy of Ashes" for reference)
But it would appear that the fix is in and his confirmation is all but assured of passing a Dem-controlled Senate. It will be humorous to watch the brass-balled questioning of Senators before giving the General their approval.

Interesting post. I'll have to keep it in mind, because its difficult to find such tremendous info also It'll obviously be challenging, so I can use all the help I can get..

thanks for sharing your information.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use