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David Petraeus

Observations: The QandO Podcast for 18 Nov 12

This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss Gen. Petraeus and Benghazi, Israel, and the Twinkie.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Observations: The QandO Podcast for 11 Nov 12

This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale do an election postmortem.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

30,000 troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan

I’m all for winding down our commitment in Afghanistan, but it should be for solid reasons to do with the security and stability of that nation and not because of US politics.  Alas I fear what we’ll hear tonight has been decided for exactly that reason and no other.

Barack Obama is set to reject the advice of the Pentagon by announcing on Wednesday night the withdrawal of up to 30,000 troops from Afghanistan by November next year, in time for the US presidential election.

The move comes despite warnings from his military commanders that recent security gains are fragile. They have been urging him to keep troop numbers high until 2013.

The accelerated drawdown will dismay American and British commanders in Kabul, who have privately expressed concern that the White House is now being driven by political rather than military imperatives.

And, of course, they’re entirely right.  Obviously military commanders are going to argue for more, not less – and most people understand that.  They will always say they need more.  But in this case, what they’re arguing is they need to keep what they have.  The so-called “surge” has barely been completed and full deployment of those assets is only months old.  We’re in the middle of a “fighting season”.  Certainly it would be better to announce and begin these withdrawals, whatever their size, in the colder months when the fighting is naturally less.

But to the point – “listening to the generals” is apparently only something Republican Commanders in Chief should do.  Obama has decided, for entirely unmilitary reasons, it is time to pull the plug on any hope of holding our gains in Afghanistan.  Note, I didn’t say get out of A’stan.  30,000 troops isn’t even close to a full withdrawal (100,000 there now).  However, it is a margin of difference between consolidating and keeping what we’ve driven the Taliban out of and being too thinly spread to do that.   In fact, that was the whole purpose of the surge (just as in Iraq) – take and hold.

The withdrawal has created deep divisions in Washington. The defence secretary, Robert Gates, argued for a modest reduction – at one point as low as 2,000 – citing the advice of US commanders in Afghanistan that they need to protect gains made during the winter against the Taliban.

But senior White House staff, conscious that the president has an election to fight next year, argued in favour of a reduction that would send a signal to the US public that an end to the war is in sight.

General Petraeus and his staff have made clear the risk of pulling out 30,000 troops this soon.  Obama has chosen to ignore their advice for political reasons.  Some will attempt to characterize this as a “gutsy call” when in fact it is anything but that.  It is the antithesis of a gutsy call – it is a decision driven by political and not military reasons.  In fact, it would appear the military’s reasons for wanting a much smaller withdrawal weren’t really considered at all.  That is to say, this was a decision made on a timeline, reality be damned. 

Interestingly, this was the “good war”, the “necessary war”, the “war we ought to be fighting” when Mr. Obama was a candidate.  As with much he does, he’s taken a swipe to satisfy political critics and is now pulling out to satisfy others.  The war (or is it a “kinetic event?”)?

It’s a “distraction.”

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

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Interview with former SecDef Rumsfeld

This past weekend was the 6th Annual Milblog Conference.  I attended and it was the best one yet.  Our headliner was former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and since I’d met him previously, I was asked to introduce him and facilitate the Q&A, which I was honored to do.

It was a fun 45 minutes as you’ll probably see if you’ve the time or desire to watch the whole thing.  I start the questioning with the shakeup in the national security arena where Petraeus is going to CIA and Panetta going to SecDef.  Secretary Rumsfeld reminded me that Ryan Crocker is also included in that as the new ambassador to Afghanistan.

He’s definitely right to point that out and it plays even more into the theory that we’re going to fight the war differently than we have.  Petraeus and Crocker had a very tight relationship in Iraq and there’s no doubt in my mind that the relationship will be reestablished with Petraeus at CIA.  It again emphasizes the probability of a more covert, SOF, “secret ninja” type of war in the future, vs. the way we’re waging it now. 

And, with the demise of bin Laden, many are now going to call on us to pack up and leave claiming our mission is complete and encouraging us to turn Afghanistan over to the Afghanis to sort out.  I see the pressure to do that building over the coming months (remember July is the month of the scheduled withdrawal from A’stan).   About all that might dampen those cries is if al Qaeda strikes somewhere in retaliation for the bin Laden death (and I fully expect they will, however they may not mount any sort of reprisal in the next few months).

~McQ

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National security shakeup – what does it mean?

The recently announced moves that will see Gen. David Petraeus taking the helm of the CIA, while CIA director Leon Panetta moves to the Secretary of Defense post (replacing retiring SecDef Robert Gates), may have some interesting reasons behind them.

Petraeus is our most successful general in a generation and credited by many for turning the Iraq war around at a time when it seemed to be spiraling out of control.  His ability to command troops in the field coupled with his ability to deftly handle the diplomatic side of his duties made him the most popular general our military has seen for some time.  So popular, in fact, that he was eventually put in command in Afghanistan to replace President Obama’s hand-picked general there.

Petraeus will resign from the Army to take the CIA post.  But many are asking, why CIA?  Why not Petraeus as the SecDef?

Perhaps the reason is that, with the big drawdown scheduled in July for Afghanistan, this signals how we plan on fighting that war from then on: more emphasis on CIA and Special Operations Force activities and less on conventional forces.  Or, the “Biden plan,” if you will.  Many more covert operations and drone strikes than now.   Less emphasis on coalition operations; more emphasis on training Afghan forces to take the security job over.   Petraeus would have be the best man to make that transition a reality.

So what does the move of Panetta mean for the Department of Defense?  Apparently, Panetta wasn’t particularly enthused about taking the job, but finally said “yes” this past Monday.  Something obviously changed to have him accept the post.  Most think the administration agreed to make it a relatively short-term appointment for the 73 year old Director of the CIA.  Secretary of Defense is a post with a grueling operations tempo, with three wars going and budget battles in the offing.  It’s a tough slog for anyone holding the post.

That means that Panetta will most likely be a “caretaker” SecDef, and as the president’s man, much more open to the budget cuts Obama wants from DoD than Gates.  Gates did his best to protect DoD as much as he could from thoughtless or deep cuts to the defense budget.  He also tried to get out ahead of the curve and nominate cuts of his own in order to avoid those that might be forced on the department by lawmakers.

With Panetta, it is more likely that he will be less of an advocate for DoD and more of a hatchet man for the administration.  He’ll most likely be gone, one way or the other, when January 2013 arrives.  So he has no reason not to do what he and the president agree on concerning cuts to defense.  The only bulwark against administration cuts now will be the Republican House.

Keep an eye on these two appointments and the events that surround them.  Both could signal profound changes in the two agencies effected.

~McQ

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Panetta to SecDef, Petraeus to CIA? (update)

That’s what a POLITICO is quoting from AP in a “Breaking News” tweet:

 

secdefCIA

 

QandO isn’t normally a “breaking news” site, but this is about as fresh as it gets.  I had just read this conjecture on Morning Defense, POLITICO’s morning email list all about defense (it’s a good read if you’re interested).

So what do you think?  Panetta for SecDef?  Why not Petraeus (retire him and move him into the job – although there may be some regulation that would prevent that – and will he retain his military status and rank at CIA)?  And Petraeus to CIA?  Why not leave Panetta there and give the agency some continuity?

I’ll update as more becomes available.

Opinions?

UPDATE: Here’s the story via USA Today.  Apparently the change will take place in July just prior to the date set to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

~McQ

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McChrystal wasn’t the problem in Afghanistan

Of course the irony is thick – Gen. David Petraeus, the man the left labeled "General Betrayus" and then Senator Hillary Clinton essentially called a liar about Iraq, has now been called upon to pull the presidential bacon out of the fire in Afghanistan.

If winning in Iraq was a tall order, winning in Afghanistan is a giant order. We’re not much closer now than we were 9 years ago, we’re operating under a strategy that takes time and massive manpower, yet we’re dealing with a “firm” withdrawal date of next year, and the civilian team in country has been less than successful.

It is on that latter point that I wish to dwell. Before going there though, as I stated yesterday, changing “firm” to “conditions based” will go a long way toward heading off dissent and disillusionment by the Afghan people and government. The massive manpower, of course, has to come from the Afghan government (and army/police). There’s no reason for an Afghan to join those security forces if we’re leaving next June. The commitment from our government to their cause has got to be what is “firm” – not a withdrawal date.

If we’re not able to make that commitment, then we need to withdraw – completely.

But assuming our goal there is to leave a relatively intact, democratic and functioning country, that in-country civilian team needs to be challenged to do a much better job than it is or be replaced. And that begins with Amb. Eikenberry.

The basics of COIN say the military/host country forces clear/hold/protect. That protection is key and the obvious goal of the military is to turn that job of clear/hold/protect over to the ANA. However, the civilian side of things comes into play during and after that military goal has been accomplished.

First a functioning national government must be in place. The job of the civilian side of the house in the sort of nation building COIN calls for is to be intimately involved in helping the national government function properly.

The one way you don’t do that in an honor/shame society, is go on yelling rants against the president of the country as it has been reported both Eikenberry and Biden have done. Whether or not one thinks the man is corrupt or not doing enough is irrelevant – once shamed like that, his cooperation has been lost. That is the sort of toxic relationship now existing there.

Gen. Petraeus, other than his military success in Iraq, had a very close working relationship with Amb. Crocker. It was that relationship, plus the military side of things (plus the awakening and surge) that spelled success in that country.

McChrystal and Eikenberry had a very hostile and adversarial relationship (Eikenberry is not lamenting the fact that McChrystal is gone). It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see the same sort of relationship begin to develop between Petraeus and Eikenberry, given the latter’s mode of operation. If that happens, it would be Eikenberry who would likely go down. Obama can’t afford to change generals again and Petraeus is seen by the vast majority of Americans as a winner.

Anyway, back to COIN – once clear/hold/protect is in place, government has to be extended into those areas and the people have to see the benefit of that connection. Enough so that they reject the insurgent once and for all.

That’s a very difficult and so far unobtainable goal for the civilian side of the house. Marjah is the perfect example. “President” Karzai is really the mayor of Kabul. Until he or the leader of a subsequent government is seen as and acknowledged as the president of the country in the outlying provinces of Afghanistan, the “country” will always be a collection of tribal areas, overlaid with a single religion and no real governing power.

That’s the civilian side of the house and apparently there’s a move afoot within the Senate to use the Petraeus hearings to address that problem. This is probably the most pressing need to address at the moment.

“The civilian side, in my view, is completely dysfunctional,” said Graham.

Lieberman said the magazine article “revealed what we have known, that there is not the kind of unity in Afghanistan between our civilian and military leadership” that is necessary.

Though none of the senators would name specific civilian leaders who should be replaced, McCain suggested “re-uniting the Crocker-Petraeus team,” a reference to former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who served in Baghdad while Petraeus headed up military operations in the country.

The current ambassador to Afghanistan, retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry, had a notoriously rocky relationship with McChrystal.

If this situation isn’t addressed and addressed quickly and forcefully, it isn’t going to matter much what the military does in Afghanistan. If the civilian team isn’t functional and working in harmony with the military toward the commong goal, then that goal won’t be reached.

Obama made the right decision about McChrystal, but not for these reasons. Now he needs to listen to the Senate, review the progress, or lack thereof, on the civilian side of the effort, and sack and replace those who aren’t serving him well in the critical positions there. And that would include Amb. Eikenberry.

~McQ

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Petraeus Says Next 2 Weeks Critical For Pakistan

Gen. David Petraeus says it is put up or shut up time for Pakistan. They’ve let the Taliban establish itself within Pakistan’s Swat valley and they are now threatening other areas. We covered that in a post about the price of appeasement.

Petraeus said:

“The Pakistanis have run out of excuses” and are “finally getting serious” about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.

But Petraeus also said wearily that “we’ve heard it all before” from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States’ next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.

Earlier in the month the Talibs had advanced within 70 miles of the capital, Islamabad. So what about the nuclear weapons?

The officials who spoke with Petraeus, however, said he and they believe that even were Zardari’s government to fall, it was still conceivable that Kayani’s army could maintain control over the nuclear arsenal.

That is because the Pakistani arsenal is set up in such a way — with the weapons stockpile and activation mechanisms separated — so as to prevent easy access by invaders. Moreover, the Taliban is not believed at present to possess the sophisticated technical expertise necessary to exercise full “command and control” over a nuclear arsenal, and would probably require weeks if not months to develop it.

Oh wonderful – they don’t possess the knowledge now, but a few months, and the Taliban could be nuclear. And, of course, we know what organization would be a beneficiary of such a capability, don’t we?

Pakistan is suddenly a much more critical story than either Iraq or Afghanistan. So what is our plan?

As for the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last Saturday, in an interview with FOX News in Baghdad, that the U.S. believes the arsenal to be “safe” but only “given the current configuration of power in Pakistan.”

She described as “the unthinkable” a situation in which the the Zardari government were to be toppled by the Taliban, adding “then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, and we can’t even contemplate that. We cannot let this go on any further…”

You know, say what you will about the last administration, but if they had said what Clinton said, I’d pretty well understand what they meant. But with this administration I have no idea what “we cannot let this go any further …” means.

~McQ