The Cable

Petraeus’s optimism about Afghanistan not shared at CIA

CIA Director Leon Panetta and ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus will get new assignments Thursday, with Panetta being nominated to head the Pentagon and Petraeus replacing him at the CIA. But the CIA and the military have completely different assessments of the NATO-led force's progress in Afghanistan, placing Petraeus in charge of a bureaucracy largely skeptical of his optimistic analysis of the war.

A senior administration official confirmed Wednesday that President Barack Obama will announce the moves Thursday, along with the appointment of CENTCOM Deputy Commander Gen. John Allen to replace Petraeus and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to replace Karl Eikenberry as envoy to Kabul. If all the Senate confirmations go smoothly, Panetta will take over for Defense Secretary Robert Gates on July 1 and Petraeus will move to the CIA in early September. CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell would act as temporary head of the CIA over the summer.

Petraeus will resign his military commission when he moves to the CIA. But he is not likely to jettison his opinions about the war in Afghanistan, which are much rosier than the assessments that have been coming out of the intelligence community.

"It is ISAF's assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas," Petraeus testified on March 16 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The progress achieved has put us on the right azimuth to accomplish the objective agreed upon at last November's Lisbon summit, that of Afghan forces in the lead throughout the country by the end of 2014."

He went on to commend the progress of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan police, praising the success of the troop surge in Afghanistan as providing space for the government led by President Hamid Karzai to increase its responsibilities throughout the country. He also praised the Pakistani military's efforts to root out insurgents in their midst.

That analysis is quite different from the intelligence community's latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan and Pakistan from last December, which stated that large areas of Afghanistan were still vulnerable to quick takeover by the Taliban and that Pakistan was still supporting insurgents in both countries.

The leaked NIE caused a rift between the CIA and the Pentagon, with military officials claiming that the intelligence community was not up to date on progress is Afghanistan. With Petraeus now heading to the CIA, he will be charged with evaluating his own rosy assessments of the course of the war.

"The specific guy who was responsible for producing a positive prognosis is now going to a job where he has to judge his own prognosis and grade his own work," said Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The institutional culture of the military is generally optimistic and can do. The institutional culture of the intelligence community is generally skeptical and pessimistic."

Petraeus is an unusually open-minded and intelligence-friendly military officer, Biddle said, but he will nevertheless face a culture clash at the CIA's Langley headquarters.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also expressed some reservations about Petraeus becoming CIA director.

"In Iraq, at CENTCOM and in Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus has been a consumer of intelligence and has commanded DoD intelligence resources. But that is a different role than leading the top civilian intelligence agency. I look forward to hearing his vision for the CIA and his plans to make sure the CIA is collecting the type of intelligence that policymakers need," she said in a statement e-mailed to The Cable.

It is true, Biddle noted, that Petraeus doesn't have a lot of experience in the intelligence community, but that hasn't previously been a disqualification for the job. "That was also true of lots of past CIA directors," he said.

A more natural promotion for Petraeus might have been to the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright is seen as the leading contender for that post due to his closeness to Obama, and despite accusations that he slept with a drunk subordinate - charges on which he was cleared.

Panetta is set to take over the Pentagon this summer, where he will work directly with Petraeus, who will still be serving as ISAF commander. The summer, typically known as Afghanistan's "fighting season," will represent Panetta's first test as secretary of defense.   A senior administration official said that Panetta was initially reluctant to take the job, but finally agreed on April 25.

"Leon loved being the director of the CIA and it showed... It was a difficult decision for him to leave the agency," the official said. "The president asked him, Leon thought about it, consulted with his spouse and family, and on Monday evening, he said yes."

The transition planning at the Pentagon is already underway. Marcel Lettre, formerly the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, shifted earlier this year to a new role in Gates's office, managing the transition process for Gates's departure and his successor's arrival.  Jeremy Bash, Panetta's chief of staff at the CIA and a former colleague of Lettre's on the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also could become Panetta's chief of staff at the Pentagon.

Of course, Panetta will immediately be tasked with weighing in on a host of personnel changes at the Pentagon. Will Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn stay on? Nobody knows. Panetta will also have a role in picking the next Joint Chiefs chairman and the next vice chairman if Cartwright, as expected, gets the promotion. A game of musical chairs among senior military officers could also see new jobs for Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. James Stavridis, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, Gen. Ray Odierno, and many others.

Meanwhile, will Petraeus, out of uniform and out of the Defense Department, be able to confine himself to the job of producing objective intelligence analysis and stay away from policymaking?

"General Petraeus has deep experience in the areas of intelligence and as director of the CIA I think he would clearly understand what the role is there," the senior administration official said.

The Cable

Crocker: No end in sight for internal conflict in Afghanistan

Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is expected to be named Thursday as the new U.S. envoy in Afghanistan, replacing outgoing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Crocker has said the internal conflict in Afghanistan will probably go on indefinitely, but nevertheless advocated for "strategic patience" by the United States.

In a long article Crocker wrote for Newsweek in September 2009, Crocker talked about his previous stint as the top U.S. diplomat in Kabul in 2002, immediately following the fall of the Taliban. Then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called him and barked, "Crocker, we need you in Afghanistan now." Crocker embarked upon the task of reopening the U.S. embassy in Kabul that had been shuttered in 1989 and reestablishing cooperation with a range of actors, including the Iranians.

Now, nine years later, the United States is still mired in the Afghan war, having committed more troops than ever before, and with no solution in sight. Crocker will be tasked with repairing strained relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and furthering a political process that will include some reconciliation talks with members of the Taliban.

In Iraq, Crocker oversaw the U.S. military surge, which was accompanied by an about-face from Iraqi insurgent groups toward cooperation with the United States, often referred to as the "Sunni awakening." But when Crocker was leaving Iraq, he warned against a similarly dramatic improvement in conditions in Afghanistan.

"Relentless internal conflict is not endemic in Iraq. In Afghanistan it is," he wrote. "For most Afghans an effective central government isn't even a distant memory. Tribal identity is everything. And Al Qaeda and the Taliban have learned from the mistakes of the insurgencies in Iraq. They have not forced the people to turn against them. They know the hills and valleys of the political terrain as well as they do the killing fields of Helmand province or the caves of Tora Bora. They have learned strategic patience."

The lesson Crocker took away from his time in Baghdad was that, although there is no way for the United States to impose a solution on a country, leaving before the problem is solved will only further damage the U.S. image in the region and therefore damage U.S. interests.

"Americans tend to want to identify a problem, fix it, and then move on. Sometimes this works. Often it does not," Croker wrote. "Of course, imposing ourselves on hostile or chaotic societies is no solution either. The perceived arrogance and ignorance of overbearing powers can create new narratives of humiliation that will feed calls for vengeance centuries from now. What's needed in dealing with this world is a combination of understanding, persistence, and strategic patience to a degree that Americans, traditionally, have found hard to muster."

So what does that mean for Crocker's view on the road forward for Afghanistan? While his essay doesn't place much emphasis on negotiating with the Taliban, which was the late Richard Holbrooke's prescription for ending the conflict, he does counsel that leaving Afghanistan before the job is done would be unwise.

"No one, least of all me, has an easy fix to propose. But over the last eight years I was intimately involved with our country's effort to manage its relationship with the Middle East and South Asia. I know that success only comes from a solid, sustained commitment of resources and attention," Crocker wrote.

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