Obama and the Drones
David Ignatius reveals this morning that US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter has fought hard and ultimately failed to maintain ultimate ‘country authority’ over the CIA’s drone attacks inside Pakistan.
As America’s relationship with Pakistan has unraveled over the past 18 months, an important debate has been going on within the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad over the proper scope of CIA covert actions and their effect on diplomatic interests.
The principals in this policy debate have been Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador since October 2010, and several CIA station chiefs who served with him. The technical issue was whether the ambassador, as chief of mission, had the authority to veto CIA operations he thought would harm long-term relations. Munter appears to have lost this fight.
Munter is no ordinary campaign-contributing pal of Barack Obama and didn’t buy his perch in Islamabad like so many other US Ambassadors.
Munter is one of the few career foreign service officers who has stacked up respect not only from his State Department colleagues — but across other agencies and departments, particularly the Department of Defense for his pivotal work in securing Congressional approval of NATO expansion during the Clinton administration, and from the various intelligence agencies for his ‘smart power approach’ to trying to simultaneously win the hearts and minds of citizens in Pakistan while also understanding that some targets require deployed hard power.
According to Ignatius’ interesting report, Munter has fought the significant expansion of drone attacks, particularly when US-Pakistan relations are on the verge of catastrophic rupture.
Ignatius also reveals that CIA Director David Petraeus has often sided with Munter and his concern about an increasingly zealous drone targeting program — and that Petraeus and the chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, whose name is classified and is referred to as “Roger”, have had substantial disputes with each other over drone targeting and attacks.
The possible implications of this report on Munter’s frustration and political loss is that this punctuates a larger set of failures.
First, Hillary Clinton, in her launch of the QDDR (Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review), made a statement at the time that the Department of State was re-asserting itself as the “statutory lead” in America’s conflict situations abroad. This statement that she made at the launch of the QDDR was seen as part of a strategy to rebalance the powers between the military/intel part of America’s power equation with the diplomatic/economic elements of statecraft.
It seems that by allowing the drone-deployers to prevail over the diplomats, the Obama White House is pushing tactics over strategy. Some may debate this — and I welcome that debate — but a drone triumphalism seems to be dominating over other key strategic equities that the U.S. should be concerned about.
Secondly, the Petraeus revelations remind one a bit of the privileged, off the grid activities organized by David Addington in the Bush/Cheney White House. It is one thing to see that the Department of State is predictably losing another national security power struggle in the White House; it is an entirely different thing to see that an operation inside the CIA is resisting and bucking the authority of that agency’s director, perhaps because the Counterterrorism Center sees its reporting line directly to the White House and President.
David Addington always felt that his off-grid work in creating a Kafka-esque system of secret prisons and policies surrounding combat detainees was done with the direct authority of the President (and Vice President).
David Ignatius’ article is titled “Drones vs. Diplomacy“. The consequences for the nation, during the presidency of a Democrat who once opposed many of the Bush administration’s anti-terror methodologies, of letting ‘drones’ win could be enormous.
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