Monday, July 04, 2011

General Petraeus and the CIA

Am I the only one who's scared that the current commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan,and former commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, has been confirmed as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency?

It's not uncommon for intelligence officers to go from the CIA to the Department of Defense, Robert Gates is one example. Likewise, it's not unusual for someone in the CIA to move on to the executive branch, witness former president George H.W. Bush.

But, especially at a time when the commitment of troops in a region is being revisited as is the case both in Iraq, and Afghanistan, for a general whose position runs 360 degrees in the opposite direction of that of his president, and commander-in-chief, run intelligence raises serious questions about the foreign policy objectives of this administration.

And, on the anniversary of the day he was sworn in as commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, one year ago today, the General made a little trip to Kandahar, according to Associated Press, how grateful he is to more than two hundred troops for re-enlisting as "much work remains" unfinished in Afghanistan.

What General Petraeus neglected to mention though was, as McClatchy reports, June was "the deadliest month" in Afghanistan, and Iraq in almost a year. Is this any way to phase out military operations in the region by raising the number of casualties both as a result of combat and non-combat incidents?

While Petraeus won't be in uniform while serving as the head of the CIA, clearly his view that enlistment, and re-enlistment in the armed forces, as the AP also notes, "is the most meaningful display of patriotism possible" will inform any special operations decisions he makes, as well as any interrogation methods used on his watch.

You'll recall that Petraeus replaced Stanley McChrystal as charge d'affaires in Afghanistan. Importantly, General Petraeus was to McChrystal's mentor, and one has only to take a quick peek at Stanley McChrystal's background in special ops for an indication of the direction Petraeus might take as head of the CIA.

General McChrystal ran Joint Special Operations Command, so-called "black ops," covert operations that resulted in the capture of Saddam Hussein, and that targeted al-Zarqawi. McChrystal was at the helm of JSOC when "enhanced alternative" interrogation methods were at their zenith, and it was McChrystal who tried to keep the friendly fire death of Pat Tilson quiet. Notably, too, General McChrystal was asked to step down by Obama who said his conduct "undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the very core of our democratic system."

For a president to appoint the mentor of a commanding general who is believed to have "undermined civilian control of the military" as head of the CIA is, in effect, to hand over the reins of the intelligence arm of government to the Pentagon.

Remember, too, that July, 2011 was supposed to be an important date for starting the phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and not one in which an outgoing commander invites his troops to pledge to return until they get the job done.

And, more importantly, one must heed the words of another former president, Harry Truman, in a Washington Post editorial back in December, 1963, when he says that the main reason he created the CIA was that intelligence reports from various agencies: "reached the President all too frequently in conflicting conclusions. At times, the intelligence reports tended to be slanted to conform to established positions of a given department. This becomes confusing and what's worse, such intelligence is of little use to a President in reaching the right decisions...

But the most important thing about this move was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisions... Since the responsibility for decision making was his—then he had to be sure that no information is kept from him for whatever reason at the discretion of any one department or agency, or that unpleasant facts be kept from him."

Were he to have known about the false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place, one can only deduce that Harry Truman would have been outraged and indeed he might be concerned that, as was revealed by the Downing Street Memo, the facts would be "fixed around the policy," a policy that benefits the few at the expense of the many.