General David Petraeus is taking on a new job responsibility: if confirmed by the Senate, he will become the twenty-second CIA Director. Many former members of the intelligence community are backing his selection.
In an email response, former President and CIA Director George H. W. Bush commented to FrumForum: “I am enthusiastic about this appointment. I have great respect for General Petraeus, and I think this is great for the country and great for the intelligence community.”
FrumForum interviewed other former intelligence experts to see if they agree with President Bush’s assessment of Petraeus. All interviewed describe the general as being intelligent, well respected, politically savvy, well-liked by congressional figures on both sides of the aisle, and a good bureaucrat. However, they also commented that there is some anxiety and apprehension since the last two directors, Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta were leaders who were great advocates for Agency professionals, well-trusted by their overseas counterparts, had good working relationships with Congress, and were very fair minded.
Will having only a military background hamper Petraeus’ effectiveness as CIA director? The obvious comparison will be to Michael Hayden, an Air Force general. A former CIA official noted that, “Petraeus is a great General but does not have the background in the intelligence world. Hayden worked in intelligence a very long time before he became CIA director.” Pete Hoekstra, the former ranking member of the intelligence committee, would have preferred someone whose career was not exclusively with the military since “there is a fundamentally different approach and culture between the CIA and the military. The military is a very much hierarchical organization. President Obama’s national security team seems dominated by military people between the DNI Director and possible CIA Director.”
A former CIA operative agrees with Hoekstra and wonders, “can Petraeus as CIA director, during certain circumstances, firmly explain to the President that the intelligence does not support his policy. Since the general has been in the Army for over thirty years he is used to saying to his commanders ‘yes sir; how can I serve you?’”
Fran Townsend, the former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, does not see the military mentality of Petraeus as a problem. She believes that “Petraeus has shown himself to be unafraid and unabashed for speaking the truth. He is a man who has always succeeded and I cannot imagine him taking a backseat to anybody.”
Another apprehension about General Petraeus is that he was in charge of the war strategy. The military assessment of the Afghanistan war was more positive than the CIA assessment. Again, many pointed out that there is a different mentality in the military where underlings are expected to follow authority. Will the general allow the analysts to have the freedom to write the truth as the facts present themselves? A former high-ranking CIA official feels Petraeus is “smart enough not to squash CIA views. He will challenge them but it’s a good thing to question the analysts. Being demanding is not a bad thing.”
Hoekstra emphasized that by the time Petraeus becomes Director there will be a pretty good indication of the situation in Afghanistan: “will the positive analysis of Petraeus’ office be correct or will it be the CIA analysis? The ultimate question is will his objectivity be clouded by the fact that he ran the Afghan operation?”
The expertise of the general was also called into question. The issues he has worked with for the last ten years have been centered on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The agency deals with other issues such as China, Russia, counter-proliferation and counter-narcotics, as well as political and economic issues. Townsend does not feel these areas will be short-changed since “he has succeeded in every assignment that was given to him. I think he will be equally successful at the CIA. He will have to determine the CIA’s role going forward.”
A high-ranking former CIA official offers a word of warning: be careful about bringing in a large number of people who want to change or fix everything. Petraeus should use Panetta as an example: he only brought along his chief of staff to make sure morale was not negatively affected.
Everyone FrumForum spoke with agrees with Hoekstra that “if there is going to be a military person there is no one better than Petraeus. Considering what he has done for the country I will give him the benefit of doubt and wish that he does well at the CIA.” Hopefully the general will be in the mold of Dwight Eisenhower who knew how to use our intelligence to protect America’s national security.