Foreign Policy Blogs

President Obama's New Pentagon, Afghanistan Team Signals New Direction

President Obama’s expected and whispered about Pentagon reshuffle heralds the likelihood of a rather more rapid draw down in Afghanistan than has been entertained so far.  The reshuffle also suggests that in one swift move, President Obama is looking to get the CIA and the Pentagon entire to cooperate on, and finish up well, what he hopes is the last leg of his run at the war in Afghanistan.

The White House will announce on Thursday  that President Obama has chosen current Director of Central Intelligence, former Congressman and former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta as the next Secretary of Defense.  The current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates is likely to leave office during the summer; in the event Panetta will likely have a swift confirmation through the Senate due in no small part thanks to his rich friendships there.  There are rumors and foresworn opinions that once in office in the Pentagon Panetta will slash the Pentagon budget, forcing a much more rapid exit out of Afghanistan than was thought credible.

In Panetta’s place, the president is known to have picked the current Afghanistan NATO commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus to head the CIA.  There can be little doubt that this move will ensure that the CIA and its leadership will soon be well-versed in insurgency and counterinsurgency doctrines.  This, as the spring thaw unleashes devastating, catapulting waves of violence across the peaks and valleys of Afghanistan.

Intelligence and counterintelligence  has played a tremendously important role in the conduct of the war in Afghanistan.  Now, as news of the release of jailed insurgents proliferates the airwaves and the electronic ether, and on its heels, news of another in a series murders and attacks committed by supposedly friendly Afghan soldiers bleeds through the evening broadcast, it has become increasingly urgent that U.S and NATO soldiers be able to tell apart friend from foe and once told and set apart, the soldiers on the ground must be able the occurrence of other similar events.

This is likely to be a difficult turn even with the proposed investment in wider use of biometric technology.  Still, the real time assessments that must be done to tell apart a signal from cheap talk will have to become a center-point of the war effort, and its more than likely that General David Petraeus will eventually take his place in Langley in order to transition the intelligence effort in Afghanistan to reflect the dangerous realities in that country. No doubt given a much more assertive CIA that has to fend off the less than satisfying moves of its partner organizations in odd countries, General Petraeus is likely to reassert the dominance of what many consider to be a more militarized CIA.

Nevertheless, there are those who, like me, are properly concerned that the departures of these respected leaders from their nearly god-given roles might imply instability for what remains of the war effort in Afghanistan.  There’s certainly room to worry but, perhaps, little need; President Obama has worked hard to square that circle.  First, he is known to have chosen former -and wildly successful-Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker as the man who will replace as Ambassador to Afghanistan the disastrously impolitic General Karl Eikenberry. For sometime at least this move might well reunite the political and military dream team of Crocker and Petraeus.  Concerned stakeholders in Washington D.C and Kabul will surely think this good news.

Secondly General Petraeus’ replacement is known to be current Deputy Commander of the U.S Central Command (Centcom), Marine Lt. General John Allen, a marine with experience in intelligence and rich contacts in defense think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Council on Foreign Relations.  That’s a fairly rich resume for a man who’s likely to lead a more intelligence heavy war effort in concert with a new CIA Director who also boasts a rich military resume.

Concerned Americans and soldiers on the ground are sure to have their worried allayed that Lt. General Allen has all the requisite skills to maneuver the U.S out of Afghanistan, even while holding down the real estate U.S and NATO soldiers have taken from the Taliban.  He would not have been President Obama’s pick otherwise.  His nomination along with the Leon Panetta’s and David Petraeus’s office shuffle might well kick start a stronger running engine in the war waged and the settled peace delivered in Afghanistan.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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