General David Petraeus tipped to take over CIA

By Toby Harnden World Last updated: April 5th, 2011
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Gen David Petraeus talks to reporters in Kabul last December (Photo: Toby Harnden)

This summer it will be musical chairs among President Barack Obama’s national security team. Leon Panetta, the CIA Director, is widely expected to take over from Bob Gates as Pentagon chief. General David Petraeus, who is said to be exhausted and eager to leave Afghanistan, is being tipped by NPR as a serious contender for Panetta’s job.

According to Tom Ricks, Lieutenant General John Allen of the US Marine Corps, a Gertrude Bell aficionado, will take over from Petraeus as ISAF commander in Kabul.

It wouldn’t be unusual for a military officer to take over at Langley but Petraeus – known to some as King David – has no specialist intelligence background, though he’s certainly spent plenty of time as an intelligence consumer. And intelligence has been a crucial element of the campaigns he has directed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The possible move shows that the Obama administration is having a hard time finding a slot for the general, once considered a potential 2012 nominee for Republicans. Some might view a Petraeus appointment to the CIA as an attempt by President Barack Obama to neutralise a possible rival.

I would have thought he would be a natural choice for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Admiral Mike Mullen retires at the end of the year but apparently he’s not viewed as a contender for that. There would be some pushback from the Left over nominating him for CIA but Petraeus is such a bipartisan rock star on Capitol Hill that it’s hard not to see him being confirmed almost unanimously.

One big thing the CIA job would do is give Petraeus an entry point into the civilian politics of Washington. Certainly, Petraeus is extremely well connected in DC for a military man but there’s no doubt that a stint at CIA would be a broadening experience for him.

Which means, of course, he would be an even more attractive presidential candidate in due course.

Petraeus in 2016 anyone?

UPDATE: Gen Petraeus’s staff isn’t commenting on the speculation about his future, which they describe as “premature”. A Nato officer from Kabul who knows Petraeus very well emails me to say: “Anyone who thinks GEN Petraeus is exhausted hasn’t run with him at six thousand feet altitude here or gone on a battlefield circulation with him lately! And I can tell you that GEN Petraeus is not eager to leave Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, it’s well known that he pledged to see this through another fighting season if that was necessary.”