David Petraeus and the Failure of American Intelligence
We Americans love no one better than he who helps us delude ourselves. The consequence of our self-delusion is a new isolationism among the electorate, and the election of a president who thinks that American influence in the world is an evil thing and wants to remove it. No Republican candidate dare say the obvious -- that America should bomb Iran's nuclear facilities in a surgical strike -- because the voters don't trust us.
Now we are less important. After four years of American strategic withdrawal, and the prospect of yet another four, the rest of the world is working around us. As I wrote in Asia Times today:
Intelligence services uncover information not by gazing at stars but by stirring up muck. Sometimes the muck is mined. Whatever ultimately comes to light about the death of ambassador Chris Stevens and his guards at Benghazi, it almost certainly will show that the intelligence failure - the failure to anticipate and respond to an organized attack on an American installation - stemmed from a policy failure.
The Obama administration's fixed idea of engaging radical Islamists will have the same result as trying to cuddle with your pet scorpion. Whether ambassador Stevens ran into blowback from a plan to run Libyan weapons to jihadists in Syria, as former CIA officer Clare Lopez conjectures, we may or may not find out. What is clear, though, is that the United States finds itself within stinging range of some nasty creatures in consequences of delusional policy.
There simply isn't any reason to bring information to Washington these days. The Obama administration cannot be argued out of a failing policy, and the path of least resistance for America's allies and adversaries alike is to humor the obsessives on the Potomac and work around them.
After four years of strategic withdrawal, and the prospect of another four with the new "flexibility" that President Obama promised then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev over a mike accidentally left open last March, the world's secondary powers are left to their own devices. Every one of them will play a double game.
- Israel will make its own decision as to whether to attack Iran's nuclear capacity, on the strength of military criteria that outsiders are poorly prepared to judge;
- Russia will threaten to arm Iran with its best surface-to-air missiles while negotiating with Israel;
- China will maintain its alliance with Pakistan but deal ruthlessly with Pakistani-supported Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, the so-called East Turkistan;
- Turkey will threaten Iran over its intervention with Syria while bartering billions of dollars in gold to the Islamic Republic each month to help it beat the boycott;
- Saudi Arabia will continue to fund Turkey as a bulwark against Iran while sabotaging Turkey's efforts to put the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Syria; and
- Germany will affirm its commitments to Europe and North Atlantic Treaty Organization while quietly diversifying its energy sources towards Russia.
It is a good time for General Petraeus to leave. His greatest success in the mirror-world of intelligence was deluding his own masters into believing that they were in control of events in Iraq. He was unsuccessful in Afghanistan; it may emerge that he failed catastrophically in Libya.Before America can restore the functioning of its intelligence services, it must have a strategy in furtherance of which intelligence is sought. Such a strategy requires leaders who are more concerned about American interests than about the reputations of their employers.
Image courtesy shutterstock / Braam Collins