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President Put Politics First on Afghanistan

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Eikenberry does not stop there. Rather, he bluntly warns--in vain, it turned out--against a premature decision regarding a troop increase, arguing "there is no option but to widen the scope of our analysis and to consider alternatives beyond a strictly military counterinsurgency effort within Afghanistan." He adds:

~"We have not yet conducted a comprehensive, interdisciplinary analysis of all our strategic options. Nor have we brought all the real-world variables to bear in testing the proposed counterinsurgency plan."

~"This strategic re-examination could either include or lead to high-level U.S. talks with the Afghans, the Pakistanis, the Saudis and other important regional players--including possibly Iran. ""

Extraordinary. Here is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan bemoaning the fact that, as the President approaches his decision on a large troop increase, there has still been no comprehensive analysis of the wider issues that remain "unaddressed" in McChrystal's proposal.

NIEs

Taking an objective look at a complex national security problem is precisely the job for which President Harry Truman created the CIA, giving its director the task of drafting what became known as National Intelligence Estimates--a process in which all agencies of the intelligence community can take part.

That no estimate has been prepared on Afghanistan/Pakistan and the "unaddressed variables" is an indictment of President Obama and his deference to the military. The President and other misguided Democrats are hell bent on preventing the bemedaled Petraeus, a likely Republican candidate for president in 2012, from painting them soft on terrorism. Letting Petraeus run the policy, while avoiding any critical intelligence analysis, is Obama's safe--and cowardly--way out.

During my tenure at CIA (from the administration of John Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush), I cannot think of an occasion on which a President chose to forgo a National Intelligence Estimate before making a key decision on foreign policy. However, in early 2002, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney set a new kind of precedent when they ordered CIA Director George Tenet NOT to prepare an NIE on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, out of fear that an honest estimate would make it immensely more difficult to attack Iraq.

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That did not change until September 2002, when Sen. Bob Graham, then-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned the White House that, absent an NIE, he would do all he could to prevent a vote on war with Iraq. That's when a totally dishonest NIE was woven out of whole cloth (or, in the words of subsequent Intelligence Committee chair, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, fashioned from "created" intelligence) to hype a threat from non-existent Iraqi WMD.

After that debacle, new leadership was given to the NIE process in the person of Tom Fingar who had run the intelligence unit at the State Department. It was Fingar who insisted on a bottom-up review of intelligence on Iran's nuclear plans, which resulted in an NIE that helped prevent Bush and Cheney from attacking Iran--or encouraging Israel to do so.

That NIE, issued in November 2007, assessed "with high confidence" that Iran had stopped working on the nuclear weapons part of its nuclear program in late 2003, directly contradicting claims of Bush and Cheney at the time.

Of equal importance, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military had no appetite to take on Iran (or to acquiesce in Israel's doing so) and insisted that the key judgments of that NIE be made public.

This time, on Afghanistan, it's different. Army generals Petraeus and McChrystal apparently persuaded the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, that they knew what they're doing and didn't need any intelligence analysts reaching troublesome conclusions.

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What's the Rush?

From his vantage point in Kabul, Eikenberry seems impervious to Dick Cheney's charges that the President is "dithering." The first two (of three) subheadings in Eikenberry's second cable are: "We Have Time" and "Why We Must Take the Time." He finishes with an appeal to "widen the scope of our analysis."

Eikenberry is all but demanding a National Intelligence Estimate, but stops short so as not to cross the President or rub salt in the wounds that the ambassador's cables have opened in Petraeus and McChrystal.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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Obama may not be as dumb as his predecessor, but h... by wagelaborer on Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 6:50:37 PM