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All the Reasons Petraeaus Should Not Head the CIA

The core problem of Petraeus as CIA director is that his reputation is inextricably tied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How can he be objective?

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The general clearly finds the line a convenient, one-size-fits-all sound bite. So far, Congress and the Fawning Corporate Media have let him get away with it.
Are we to expect that once Petraeus takes the helm at CIA, the career analysts will still be able to call the war in Afghanistan a fool’s errand? If the new CIA director insists on seeing progress – however “fragile and reversible” – will vulnerable analysts risk his wrath by contradicting him?

We’ll know, I suppose, as soon as we hear that sound bite showing up in the CIA's analytic assessments.

For now, we already know that Petraeus’s professional optimism is not shared among rank-and-file analysts at CIA. And the grim statistics continue to build. Just this week, the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan passed the 6,000 mark, with 43,184 the official figure for the number wounded.

An additional 54,592 have required medical evacuation from combat. Thus, about 104,000 U.S. troops — a conservative minimum not including the walking wounded, those with traumatic brain injury, attempted or successful suicides, and civilian contractors — are casualties of these long wars.

Against this background, I find it hard to believe that President Obama would fritter away his best chance to get an unvarnished assessment — without fear or favor — from intelligence specialists with career protection for “telling it like it is,” the views of the boss notwithstanding.

The conundrum is hardly unprecedented. Think back to the 1980s and the challenges faced by honest analysts trying to report on the Contra war in Nicaragua, even as it was being run by the boss, then-CIA Director William Casey.

Finding ‘Intelligence’ on Iran

Iran will continue to loom large as a target for intelligence analysis during Petraeus’s tenure at CIA. What is disconcerting on that front is that Petraeus has been eager to serve up “intelligence” to portray Iran in the worst light.

One rather strange but instructive example comes to mind. It involves a studied, if disingenuous, effort to blame all the troubles in southern Iraq on the “malignant” influence of Iran.

On April 25, 2008, Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters that Gen. Petraeus in Baghdad would give a briefing “in the next couple of weeks” providing detailed evidence of “just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability.”

Petraeus’s staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.

Investigative reporter Gareth Porter noted at the time that the idea was to fill the airwaves with spectacular news framing Iran as the culprit in Iraq for several days, with the aim of “breaking down congressional and public resistance to the idea that Iranian bases supporting the meddling would have to be attacked.”

There was a small problem, however. When American munitions experts went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons, they found nothing that could be credibly linked to Iran.

Adding to Washington’s chagrin, the Iraqis announced that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate the U.S. claims and attempt to “find tangible information and not information based on speculation.” Ouch!

The embarrassment for Petraeus might have been greater, but the U.S. media conveniently forgot the promised briefing. After all, the general has long been a darling of the FCM.

U.S. media suppression of this episode was a telling reminder of how difficult it is to get unbiased and accurate information on touchy subjects like Iran.

 
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