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The news that President Barack Obama has picked Gen. David Petraeus to be CIA director raises troubling questions, including whether the commander most associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will tolerate objective analysis of those two conflicts.
What if CIA analysts assess the prospects of success in those two wars as dismal, and conclude that the troop "surges" pushed so publicly by Petraeus wasted both the lives of American troops and many billions of taxpayer dollars? Will CIA Director Petraeus welcome such critical analysis or punish it?
The Petraeus appointment also suggests that the President places little value on getting the straight scoop on these key war-related issues. If he did want the kind of intelligence analysis that, at times, could challenge the military, why is he giving the CIA job to a general with a huge incentive to gild the lily regarding the "progress" made under his command?
Petraeus already has a record as someone who looks at skeptical CIA analysts as gnats to be swatted away before they bite. That is why he relegated them to strap-hanger status during the key decision-making process in late 2009 on what to do about Afghanistan. When Obama expressed doubts about the value of a major escalation in Afghanistan, Petraeus assured him that he and his generals had it all figured out, that 33,000 additional troops would do the trick.
CIA analysts weren't even assigned to do a formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which normally is a de rigueur step before making any significant presidential decision like a large-scale escalation of a war. Remarkably, no NIE was prepared before the President's decision to up U.S. troop levels to 100,000 in late 2009.
The one on Afghanistan concluded that the U.S. could not prevail without a firm decision by Pakistan to interdict the Taliban along the border with Afghanistan. The one on Pakistan said, in the vernacular, there is not a snowball's chance in hell that the Pakistanis would make such a decision. Ergo?
The sobering conclusions of the NIEs were supported by a treasure trove of 92,000 documents written mostly by U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009 and released by WikiLeaks on July 25, 2010.
Good Luck Persuading Pakistan
Perhaps the most explosive revelations disclosed the double game being played by the Pakistani Directorate for Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Der Spiegel reported: "The documents clearly show that this Pakistani intelligence agency is the most important accomplice the Taliban has outside of Afghanistan."
The documents revealed that ISI envoys not only are present when insurgent commanders hold war councils, but also give specific orders to carry out assassinations -- including, according to one report -- an attempt on the life of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in August 2008.
Former Pakistani intelligence chief, Gen. Hamid Gul, is depicted as an important source of aid to the Taliban and even, in another report, as a "leader" of the insurgents. The reports show Gul ordering suicide attacks and describe him as one of the most important suppliers of weaponry to the Taliban.
Though the Pakistani government has angrily denied U.S. government complaints about Gul and the ISI regarding secret ties to the Taliban and even to al-Qaeda, the evidence certainly raises serious questions regarding what the Pakistanis have been doing with the billions of dollars that Washington has given them.
Back stateside, U.S. intelligence analysts looked on with dismay. Those with some gray in their hair were reminded of similar failed tactics and warped intelligence assessments of the U.S. military command in Vietnam.
The Ghost of Westmoreland Past