President Put Politics First on Afghanistan

Nothing highlights President Obama's abject surrender to
Gen. David Petraeus on the "way forward" in Afghanistan than two cables U.S.
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry sent to Washington on Nov. 6 and 9, 2009, the texts
of which were released Tuesday by the New
York Times

No longer is it possible to suggest that Obama was totally
deprived of wise counsel on Afghanistan; Eikenberry got it largely right. Sadly, the inevitable conclusion is
that, although Obama is not as dumb as his predecessor, he is no less willing
to sacrifice thousands of lives for political gain.

Eikenberry, a retired Army Lt. General who served three years in Afghanistan
over the course of two separate tours of duty, was responsible during 2002-2003
for rebuilding Afghan security forces.
He then served 18 months (2005-2007) as commander of all U.S. forces
stationed in Afghanistan.

Straight Talk

In the cable he sent to Washington on Nov. 6, he explains
why, "I cannot support [the Defense Department's] recommendation for an
immediate Presidential decision to deploy another 40,000 here." His reasons include:

~Afghan President
Hamid Karzai is not "an adequate strategic partner." His government has "little to no political will or capacity
to carry out basic tasks of governance. ... It strains credulity to expect Karzai
to change fundamentally this late in his life and in our relationship."

~Karzai and many of
his advisers "are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory
for a never ending 'war on terror' and for military bases to use against
surrounding powers."

~"The proposed troop
increase will bring vastly increased costs and an indefinite, large-scale U.S.
military role."

~"We overestimate the
ability of Afghan security forces to take 2013. ... and underestimate how
long it will take to restore or establish civilian government."

~"More troops won't
end the insurgency as long as Pakistan sanctuaries remain...and Pakistan views
its strategic interests as best served by a weak neighbor."

~"There is also the
deeper concern about dependency. ... Rather than reducing Afghan dependence,
sending more troops, therefore, is likely to deepen it, at least in the short
term. That would further delay our
goal of shifting the combat burden to the Afghans."

More Straight Talk

Eikenberry is even more direct in his cable of Nov. 9,
taking strong issue with "a proposed counterinsurgency strategy that relies on
a large, all-or-nothing increase in U.S. troops," and warning of the risk that
"we will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate
ourselves..." Condemning Gen.
Stanley McChrystal's recommendations with faint praise, Ambassador Eikenberry
describes them as "logical and compelling within his [McChrystal's] narrow
mandate to define the needs for a military counterinsurgency campaign within

"Unaddressed variables," says Eikenberry, "include Pakistan
sanctuaries, weak Afghan leadership and governance, NATO civilian-military
integration, and our national will to bear the human and fiscal costs over many
years." He complains that the
troop increase proposal "sets aside" these variables, even though "each has the
potential to block us from achieving our strategic goals, regardless of the
number of additional troops we may send."

The ambassador also notes that it is hardly a safe
assumption that Karzai and his new team will ever be "committed to lead the
counterinsurgency mission we are defining for them," noting that Karzai
"explicitly rejected" McChrystal's counterinsurgency proposal when first
briefed on it in detail.

Eikenberry does not stop there. Rather, he bluntly warns-in vain, it turned out-against a
premature decision regarding a troop increase, arguing "there is no option but
to widen the scope of our analysis and to consider alternatives beyond a
strictly military counterinsurgency effort within Afghanistan." He adds:

~"We have not yet
conducted a comprehensive, interdisciplinary analysis of all our strategic
options. Nor have we brought all
the real-world variables to bear in testing the proposed counterinsurgency

~"This strategic
re-examination could either include or lead to high-level U.S. talks with the
Afghans, the Pakistanis, the Saudis and other important regional
players-including possibly Iran. ..."

Here is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan bemoaning the fact that, as
the President approaches his decision on a large troop increase, there has
still been no comprehensive analysis of the wider issues that remain
"unaddressed" in McChrystal's proposal.


Taking an objective look at a complex national security
problem is precisely the job for which President Harry Truman created the CIA,
giving its director the task of drafting what became known as National
Intelligence Estimates-a process in which all agencies of the intelligence
community can take part.

That no estimate has been prepared on Afghanistan/Pakistan
and the "unaddressed variables" is an indictment of President Obama and his
deference to the military. The
President and other misguided Democrats are hell bent on preventing the
bemedaled Petraeus, a likely Republican candidate for president in 2012, from
painting them soft on terrorism.
Letting Petraeus run the policy, while avoiding any critical
intelligence analysis, is Obama's safe-and cowardly-way out.

During my tenure at CIA (from the administration of John
Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush), I cannot think of an occasion on which a
President chose to forgo a National Intelligence Estimate before making a key
decision on foreign policy.
However, in early 2002, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick
Cheney set a new kind of precedent when they ordered CIA Director George Tenet
NOT to prepare an NIE on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, out of fear that
an honest estimate would make it immensely more difficult to attack Iraq.

That did not change until September 2002, when Sen. Bob
Graham, then-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned the White House
that, absent an NIE, he would do all he could to prevent a vote on war with
Iraq. That's when a totally
dishonest NIE was woven out of whole cloth (or, in the words of subsequent
Intelligence Committee chair, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, fashioned from "created"
intelligence) to hype a threat from non-existent Iraqi WMD.

After that debacle, new leadership was given to the NIE
process in the person of Tom Fingar who had run the intelligence unit at the
State Department. It was Fingar
who insisted on a bottom-up review of intelligence on Iran's nuclear plans,
which resulted in an NIE that helped prevent Bush and Cheney from attacking
Iran-or encouraging Israel to do so.

That NIE, issued in November 2007, assessed "with high
confidence" that Iran had stopped working on the nuclear weapons part of its
nuclear program in late 2003, directly contradicting claims of Bush and Cheney
at the time.

Of equal importance, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other
senior military had no appetite to take on Iran (or to acquiesce in Israel's
doing so) and insisted that the key judgments of that NIE be made public.

This time, on Afghanistan, it's different. Army generals Petraeus and McChrystal
apparently persuaded the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen,
that they knew what they're doing and didn't need any intelligence analysts
reaching troublesome conclusions.

What's the Rush?

From his vantage point in Kabul, Eikenberry seems impervious
to Dick Cheney's charges that the President is "dithering." The first two (of three) subheadings in
Eikenberry's second cable are: "We
Have Time" and "Why We Must Take the Time." He finishes with an appeal to "widen the scope of our

Eikenberry is all but demanding a National Intelligence
Estimate, but stops short so as not to cross the President or rub salt in the
wounds that the ambassador's cables have opened in Petraeus and McChrystal.

Instead of requesting an NIE, Ambassador Eikenberry suggests
that the White House appoint "a panel of civilian and military experts to
examine the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy and the full range of options." The list of issues he says this panel
"should examine" reads very much like what the intelligence community calls
"Terms of Reference" for an NIE.
(As a CIA analyst and manger I contributed to many NIEs and chaired some

When the White House gave Eikenberry short shrift, he should
have resigned, rather than support the misbegotten strategy Obama chose.


Part of Obama's motivation in not ordering the customary NIE
was to avoid any chance that its conclusions might leak, according to a source
with good access. Assuming that
intelligence community estimators have not regressed to the Bush/Cheney days of
cooking estimates to order, such a leak would certainly have made it more
difficult for the President to render unflinching support to Petraeus and

Pity Obama. It
is hard to believe he could be so naive to the ways of Washington and so
dismissive of the possibility that there could still be some courageous
patriots among the senior officials dismayed at his remarkable retreat from the
"transparency" he promised.

The New York Times
reports, "An American official provided a copy of the cables to The Times after a reporter requested
them." Well, good for that
patriotic truth-teller. And good,
as well, for the New York Times for
publishing the cables. I am
permitting myself to hope that still more truth-tellers will emerge from the
woodwork, and even that The Times
might begin to play the kind of key role it did 40 years ago, once it finally
brought itself to concede that Vietnam was a fool's errand.


It may be that one needs to have worked at senior levels on
the "inside" to understand the twinge that I felt after downloading the NODIS
cables made available by The Times. NODIS cables on my desk at home!

As the cover sheet indicates, "NODIS" means no dissemination
beyond the named "addressee and, if not expressly precluded, by those officials
under his authority whom he considers to have a clear-cut 'need
to know.'" (Emphasis added. It is
not entirely clear, but I assume that exceptions can now be made for the
current Secretary of State and other senior officials of her gender.)

In my day we had to go to the CIA Director's office, sign
for, and read NODIS cables right there.
No doubt there are similar controls today. So, in this case the whistleblower took considerable risk in
taking it upon him/herself to make "transparency" real, not just Obaman

The irony? If,
as I have been told, the President put the kibosh on preparation of an NIE for
fear it would leak, we now have an even more instructive kind of leak. Thanks to The Times and its courageous source, we now know not only that
President Obama elected to forgo an honest NIE, but that he did so in the face
of very strong urging from Ambassador Eikenberry to "widen the scope" of
analysis, and not simply kowtow to the Army brass.

I imagine that in years to come, Eikenberry will proudly
show his cables to his grandchildren.
Or maybe he won't, out of fear that one of them might ask why he didn't
have the guts to quit and let the rest of the country know what he really
thought of this latest March of Folly.

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