Senators will likely seize upon the confirmation hearing for General David Petraeus to be CIA director as an occasion to debate the value of enhanced interrogations. The bin Laden hit should have put that debate to rest, but it remains a political football, and many senators just cannot let it go. Still, as President Obama has managed to put the Palestinian-Israeli conflict front-and-center again, driving massacres in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and Egypt’s shaky outlook at least temporarily out of the headlines, senators might productively use the confirmation hearings to flesh out the views of both accomplished men on key issue of peace process policy.
One of the Clinton administration’s more disastrous moves, for example, was to use the CIA to monitor and, in some cases train, Palestinian security forces. The problem with CIA involvement is twofold: First, it erodes the already tenuous wall between intelligence and policy; and second, for the CIA operative on the ground, peace is less a priority than access. This in turn leads to protection of certain men as sources, regardless of the crimes they commit. CIA involvement in the militia-training may lead it to turn a blind eye to bad apples, so long as they have loose lips and open palms. During and after the Clinton era, some elite Palestinian security men applied lessons from their training to build a new generation of better-trained terrorists.
General Petraeus, of course, has a storied history in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has never refused to take on the tough assignments, and refused to shy away from missions which many other men dismissed as impossible or dead end. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Petraeus has embraced the creation of local forces and sub-national militias. Before he moves onto this new and important post, it might behoove the Senate to ask Petraeus to assess Clinton’s approach, and to discuss what lessons learned, if any, from his Iraq and Afghanistan experience he would apply to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Regardless of how he responds, his answer will be illuminating.