November 13, 2012

Let's get past the sex and concentrate on Benghazi

CNN - Piers Morgan Tonight - November 12, 2012

I appeared on CNN's Piers Morgan on November 12 to talk about the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus. Since it was a panel discussion, I only had limited time to make a few comments. Here are those points, with a bit of expansion. (Watch the segment here.)

I have been invited back to be on the November 13 show to discuss this issue more fully.

Iraq and Afghanistan
General Petraeus did a great job in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, it was General Petraeus who convinced President Bush to commit additional combat forces for what is now called "the surge." That, combined with the Sunni Awakening, broke the back of al-Qa'idah in Iraq (AQI) and rendered them ineffective as a fighting force. The presence of additional American troops forced the Shi'a militias, particularly that of Iran's fair-haired child Muqtada al-Sadr, to back down.

Unfortunately, President Obama's decision to not pursue the option of keeping American forces in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 date specified in the Status of Forces Agreement undid many of those gains. There was a provision in the SOFA as negotiated by the Bush Administration to allow for troops to remain based on the security situation. The realization that American forces would still be in Iraq past 2011 kept al-Qa'idah and the militias in check.

In my analysis, the security situation in late 2011 was perilous enough to warrant talking to the Iraqis about continued American support. Unfortunately, President Obama chose to withdraw all of the troops. While "ending the war in Iraq" might have made a great campaign talking point, it was inaccurate. The war in Iraq continues and the situation continues to worsen. Quitting a war neither ends it nor wins it.

In Afghanistan, the general again convinced the President, this time Barack Obama, to deploy additional combat forces to increase the tempo of the fighting. It succeeded, but only for a short while, for two reasons. The President did not authorize the number of troops General Petraeus thought was required for the mission, and once deployed, the President announced the timetable for the withdrawal not only of the surge forces, but all American forces.

Announcing an arbitrary withdrawal schedule merely telegraphs the date of victory to the insurgents. This is not, as promised, "ending the war responsibly." It is, in essence, quitting. Again, quitting a war neither ends it nor wins it.

CIA Director
General Petraeus is remarkable military officer, trained at West Point and educated at some of America's finest universities. He has distinguished himself in several military leadership roles. However, none of those qualify him to be the nation's top spymaster.

The Central Intelligence Agency has two main functions. First is the collection and production of intelligence to support national-level decision makers - we are mainly speaking about the President, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Its second mission is the conduct of covert operations, those things that must be done in secret. That involves things like providing arms to insurgent groups - the Kurds, Libyans and hopefully the Syrians, come to mind. It also includes direct actions with Defense Department special operations forces, such as the killing of Usamah bin Ladin. CIA paramilitary officers also conduct drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

Much of this work is distasteful and requires thinking outside the generally accepted military box. It requires a different skill set to manage people who are taught to lie, cheat and steal, albeit for their government. Directing the CIA requires a professional intelligence officer - either a case officer who recruits and runs spies, or a special activities officer who understands covert operations.

Sex and Benghazi
The most important point I tried to make Monday night was the need to get past the sex scandal and focus on what happened in Benghazi. This resignation gives us that opportunity. Petraeus is the "go to guy" for what happened out there. Virtually everything that transpired that night in Benghazi was either in the Director's purview, or he had access to the information. The CIA base in Benghazi was much more involved in what was happening in that part of Libya than the consulate.

General Petraeus would also have had access to the decision-making process that resulted in no military response. The CIA operations center would have been involved with this crisis from its start to its finish.

Also of interest is the timing of the general's resignation. If there were political considerations involved - and I don't know one way or the other - I do not believe it was tied to the election, but rather to the upcoming testimony before Congressional committees about what transpired in Benghazi. The important point here is, that the American people finally have an opportunity to get the real story, since next to no one places any credibility in the ever-changing Administration account.

General Petraeus is no longer an active-duty military officer, nor is he any longer the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency - thus no longer part of the Executive Branch, no longer a part of the government. He has no official standing to prevent him from detailing exactly what happened in Benghazi, and possibly more importantly, what was happening in Washington. He is the "go to guy" - he can tell us who knew what, when did they know it, and what did they do about it.

General Petraeus is not scheduled to appear before any of the Congressional oversight committees. Despite President Obama's spokesman's words, "The president is confident that Acting Director [Michael] Morrell is fully informed and capable of representing the CIA in a hearing about the incidents in Benghazi," I would rather hear it from someone no longer answerable to the President. That someone is David Petraeus.