Obama shuffles his national security team, naming Gen. David Petraeus to head the CIA. Retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern offers his critical views, and Harper’s contributor Jonathan Stevenson asks in the May issue: Has the President lost control of his generals? McGovern, who served 27 years in Army intelligence and at CIA, offers fascinating context and history for this cabinet shuffle, which ensures that no new voices or ideas will enter the policy debate. We talk about the ways that Petraeus has publicly undermined Obama’s promise to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan this summer, and wonder if the new job is a way to prevent Petraeus from running against Obama next year. McGovern also raises important questions about how open Petraeus will be to intel and analysis that conflict with the general’s vision for policies–and his legacy as the general who “won” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Be sure to catch the anecdote about the errant email that exposed Petraeus kissing up to neocon Max Boot and the Zionist lobby.
Segment 2, starting at 45:53: Professor Stevenson teaches strategic studies at the Naval War College, and has a background as a journalist. His books include: Losing Mogadishu: Testing US Policy in Somalia; We Wrecked the Place: Contemplating an End to the Northern Irish Troubles; and, most recently, Thinking Beyond the Unthinkable: Harnessing Doom from the Cold War to the Age of Terror. (In the introduction in the podcast, your humble host mashed the first two titles into one.) In the Harper’s article, he levels twin charges: that generals are becoming bolder in overstepping their roles, and that presidents are becoming more passive to this kind of behavior, especially from Petraeus. He calls it a coup d’esprit, “in which civilian leadership voluntarily submits to the military way of thinking”. We apply this to Iraq and Afghanistan first, then to the “Arab Spring” liberation movements and the inconsistency of our policies in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria. In his new perch at CIA, will Petraeus continue to try to “shape public opinion” and “narrow the president’s options”?
Shortly after the interview, Professor Stevenson emailed this post-script to our exchange:
“I felt that my response to your question about whether the Arab spring presented an opportunity to remake U.S. Middle East policy was rather unfocused. So let me offer a more articulate gloss: I do think the wave of protest does present such an opportunity. The fact that it has been largely driven by secular concerns means that al-Qaeda has taken a political hit. It also means that the United States should no longer base its Middle East policy on the threat of al-Qaeda or Islamic radicalism generally, or submit to claims of Arab exceptionalism with respect to political (democratic) advancement. Active and affirmative political and economic support for democratization, rather than the parsimonious and selective incrementalism that prevailed before the Arab spring, would best serve U.S. interests as articulated by Obama in the Cairo speech and elsewhere. I would add that deep and considered engagement on Israeli-Palestinian peace process would help U.S. relations with Arab publics and new Arab democracies, and would also give the U.S. greater leverage on political reform with old-line regimes like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that remain strategically sensitive.”
At 1:22:10, Will Durst on Trump and the Birther noise.