Petraeus, the general best beloved by the Republican and right-wing Democratic Congressional caucuses, told the BBC last month that “at this point in your life you serve at the pleasure of the elected leaders above you and when they decide what the future holds obviously I’ll salute smartly and execute their decisions”.
But Petraeus’ verbal respect for constitutional form, civilian leadership, and the judgement of his superiors is not borne out by evidence. And the smart salute has been often accompanied by a knife in the back and a not-so-quiet word to the media. David Petraeus is an insubordinate, back-stabbing, MacArthur-esque figure, whose overweening ego, unseemly fondness for the microphone and warmongering should preclude his continued service, let alone promotion.
Bob Woodward has described how the White House had to develop an unprecedentedly-concrete terms list to provide to the thrusting military in order to prevent them from wilfully misinterpreting their orders and publicly bombarding the President with requests for ever-more troops.
Mid-way through Obama’s Afghan policy evaluation, Petraeus would go rogue on television, undercutting the President by arguing that his (Petraeus’) way was the only one (158). During the administration’s strategy sessions, he refused outright to answer Vice-President Biden’s questions about preparations or contingency plans for worst-case scenarios (221).
He knuckled under when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, refused to allow him to provide the President with the multiple options he had requested. When ordered by the White House to cease granting interviews to the media (which tended to turn into hagiographic bio-spots), what did Petraeus do? Head straight to CNN (266).
What the White House would clearly like to do—and what it should do—is fire Petraeus, whose political machinations have locked the U.S. into an inextricable war in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the despicable purposes of massaging his ego and vindicating his counterinsurgency strategy, the panacea the Pentagon enthusiastically substitutes for serious contextualisation and analysis of our role in South Asia and the Middle East.
We should also be worried about the military baggage that Petraeus will bring to the intelligence world. As it is, the agency has an awful track record of cherry picking intelligence and of failing to ensure that decision-makers get a balanced view of national security scenarios. But the real danger is that the intelligence sphere will increasingly become a fig-leaf for the military-industrial complex which (Mitt Romney’s lunacy aside) drives our foreign policy.
We have every reason, based on past behaviour, to believe that Petraeus will turn the C.I.A. into an arm of the military (even more so than is already the case); that it will be tasked with covert ops, intelligence gathering and performing acts of questionable rationalisation with an end to justifying the military’s a priori take on national security. That is, instead of providing information with an eye to informing the decision-making process around the waging of war, the cementing of alliances and the reformulation of national security priorities, intelligence agencies will wind up trolling for evidence to back up the conventional wisdom and support the military and political frameworks that drive our needless wars in South Asia and the Middle East, our backing of dictatorial regimes in the same regions and across North Africa, and our failure to get to grips with the historical reasons for our unpopularity in said regions.
For all of these reasons, professional, political, personal and institutional, David Petraeus is utterly unfit to command the Central Intelligence Agency. His ego, his obsession with counterinsurgency, and his subversion of the military’s role vis-à-vis civilian leadership have badly damaged the White House’s decision-making process and have imperilled our national well-being. The Senate should roundly reject this appointment.