Was General David Petraeus Targeted for Take-down by the Military?
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Wilson, writing of what he learned that night, says:
“Petraeus has become BFF [slang for best friends forever] with the Yemeni ambassador here. Dinners every other week at the amb’s house. Last time he came with this woman, not his wife. The Yemenis think she was his mistress, but i seriously doubt that he’d be that stupid considering how high profile he is. You can see Petraeus taking a much deeper interest in Yemen these days though. Petraeus (after he drinks a few) says privately there is an Iranian link in Yemen, but it is not yet critical.”
A 2010 US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks reports that on January 2, 2010 — that is, around the time of Petraeus’s dinners with the ambassador — Petraeus met with then-president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh, who, referring to secret US air strikes in Yemen, promised Petraeus “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” Broadwell’s biography of Petraeus, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, briefly mentions Petraeus trips to Yemen, but does not indicate if she went along.
The Turf War
Control over US policy in Yemen was at stake, and General Petraeus was right in the midst of it. The CIA and the Pentagon had competing objectives in Yemen. The CIA was pushing Obama to authorize the agency to deploy its pilotless drones against radical Islamist forces, while the military wanted to train and supply Yemeni special forces to handle the country’s problems. Debate raged over whether US drone operations—which often involve civilian casualties—were not just further alienating the local population and thereby playing into those Islamists’ hands. Both sides were leaking information to the press to try to influence the White House, and Petraeus himself was one of the leakers. (Later, as CIA director, Petraeus would advocate for increased use of drones.)
Email-ID 1204569, sent September 4, 2010, while Petraeus was CENTCOM commander, contains Stratfor analyst Bhalla’s report of a discussion over hookah (“sheesha”) with her “Yemeni diplomat source” and two younger sons of President Saleh.
She mentions “leaks from a couple weeks ago on CIA recommendations to the [Obama] administration to carry out drone strikes in Yemen,” and says: “There’s a huge turf war between CIA and JSOC over this, which is why all these leaks are coming out,” and notes that
CENTCOM leaked their rec for $1.2 billion assistance funding for Yemeni special forces (this was all Petraeus, who has a very good relationship with the Yemenis and goes to the Yemeni ambo’s house pretty regularly for dinner.) The Yemenis are nervous about [General James] Mattis taking over Centcom. They could deal well with Petraeus, whom they consider a ‘diplomat.’ Don’t know yet how to read Mattis.
Powerful competing US (and international) interests and factions have stakes in Yemen that are not transparent to the public nor shared with it. The political landscape in Yemen is complex and shifting (Saleh is no longer in power, and some reforms are underway), but certain realities must be understood. Some of these were noted nearly a year ago on the site Small Wars Journal, put out by ex-Marines with an interest in nuances that often get lost:
Over the last decade the US has viewed Yemen almost exclusively through a counterterrorism lens. This has proven short-sighted and often counter-productive. Some make a compelling case that Ali Abdullah Saleh kept the terrorism threat alive to secure both US funding and ultimately his regime, which was dubbed by Yemen expert Robert Burrowes as nothing short of a “kleptocracy.”