Why generals shouldn't run the CIA

  • Article by: Amy B. Zegart , Foreign Policy
  • Updated: November 23, 2012 - 1:08 PM

The American military prides itself on having a hierarchical, can-do culture. The CIA has a different cherished value: speaking truth to power.

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clintonliesNov. 23, 12 1:55 PM

It's always good to be a Monday morning quaterback.

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goldengoph3rNov. 23, 12 2:23 PM

The hero worship of generals and really all of military culture should be of increasing concern to America. More and more, the projection of our influence around the world is the business end of a rifle or missle. Most of this military influence is borne of good intentions, but the results--as we see in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya--will always be limited. Perhaps it is good that Petraeus' philandering was exposed, and the CIA can return to what it does best: intelligence gathering instead of missle strikes.

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shushyn78Nov. 23, 12 2:43 PM

So...just whose idea was it that Petraeus run the CIA? Astonishing lack of foresight in the nominating committee?

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muggsh2oNov. 23, 12 2:51 PM

The whole Petraeus thing has to do with one thing, Benghazi. Petraeus would not walk the Obama/Clinton coverup and Chicago politics kicked into action. Hilary knows how the Chicago politics works better than anyone.

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swmnguyNov. 23, 12 3:30 PM

Maybe there wouldn't have ever been a Benghazi incident if we weren't using the CIA to run torture chambers and dirty wars all around the world. Maybe if we used our military for military things and our Intelligence apparatus for intelligence things and our diplomatic service for diplomatic things we'd be in better shape. Maybe if we stopped fetishizing soldiers, who do a job for money, we'd be more realistic about things. And maybe if Petraeus, who never has seen any combat but is one heck of a self-promoter, had a more realistic sense of his own abilities, and when to keep his pants on, we wouldn't be talking about any of this.

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swmnguyNov. 23, 12 3:32 PM

My mistake. Petraeus did see combat in the Iraq War in 2003. He was a Major General at the time, however.

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garykhansonNov. 23, 12 6:19 PM

As usual hubris is the Achilles heal that brings a downfall.

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DufferHNov. 23, 12 6:22 PM

I questioned right from the beginning why a four-star general, especially one without any intelligence background, was chosen to run the CIA. In his high military grade, Petreaus was in a position to receive and act on intelligence gathered by others. But he was never in a position to gather or interpet info himself. Thank you, Ms.Zegart, for articulating the problem so well.

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alansonNov. 23, 1210:30 PM

The CIA has had many moments both of astuteness and obtuseness. It has certainly had its moments of not speaking "truth to power" (the Iraq War and civilian DCI George Tenet come to mind immediately). Our flag officers are also supposed to speak truthfully to their civilian overseers - this should not be a novel principle when one of them becomes CIA director. In the history of the CIA there are plenty of instances where a retired military officer successfully ran the agency, and instances where leadership by a former member of the intelligence services ran into trouble. Petraeus was a very creative leader in Iraq - successfully ending a war that began with a massive intelligence failure. He shared with some of his predecessors at CIA a weakness that in his case became a public scandal. I don't think his fall from grace does much to make a case against the DCI being a military officer every now and then.

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ti1310Nov. 23, 1210:47 PM

---Petreaus was in a position to receive and act on intelligence gathered by others. But he was never in a position to gather or interpet info himself.---- Not true, every Commander from Battalion level and up has a intel section (S2,G2) and at the CINC level its a very large group and they have their own intelligence gathering and processing apparatus. intel comes from many sources. They don't just sit back and wait for the CIA to feed them all the intel they need.

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