Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Allen

The Problem with Obama and His Generals

One of the key narratives of the American Civil War was President Abraham Lincoln’s long search for a general who could fight and win battles and put a war-winning strategy into action. But when historians look back on the country’s current conflicts in the Middle East, that formula may be reversed. Instead of lacking generals who wish to engage the enemy and defeat them, what the nation may need more is a president who is as committed to victory as his soldiers. That’s the conclusion many observers are drawn to after listening to the testimony of General Martin Dempsey yesterday when he told a Senate committee that he may yet recommend the use of U.S. ground forces against ISIS even though that is something that President Obama has explicitly rejected.

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One of the key narratives of the American Civil War was President Abraham Lincoln’s long search for a general who could fight and win battles and put a war-winning strategy into action. But when historians look back on the country’s current conflicts in the Middle East, that formula may be reversed. Instead of lacking generals who wish to engage the enemy and defeat them, what the nation may need more is a president who is as committed to victory as his soldiers. That’s the conclusion many observers are drawn to after listening to the testimony of General Martin Dempsey yesterday when he told a Senate committee that he may yet recommend the use of U.S. ground forces against ISIS even though that is something that President Obama has explicitly rejected.

The president repeated his vow that American troops would not fight the terrorists on the ground today when he spoke to an audience of soldiers at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. While trying, not always successfully, to sound appropriately belligerent, the president made it abundantly clear that that his vow to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terror group is conditional on finding local proxies to fight the war he has been dragged into by circumstance and the shifting tides of public opinion. The purpose of the speech and, indeed, a rare all-out lobbying push in Congress by a normally diffident White House, was to convince the country of the need to fund American participation in the conflict. But the contrast between the recommendations he has reportedly been getting from his military advisors and his adamant refusal to even leave the door open to U.S. action on the ground makes it hard to believe that he is really serious about winning this war.

As Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report today in the Daily Beast, Dempsey’s statement is not the only instance of military men urging the president to keep an open mind about how best to win the war. Other advisers, including General John Allen, who has been appointed to lead the anti-ISIS effort, not only criticized the administration for its foolish decision to abandon Iraq that gave ISIS the opening it needed but has been calling for a “robust” effort against ISIS for months.

Some may interpret this disconnect as a standoff between trigger-happy generals and a thoughtful president who thinks carefully before acting (Obama’s cherished self-evaluation of his leadership style that he never tires of extolling). But that is both inaccurate as well as misleading. Generals and admirals are always the last ones to wish to see their cherished institutions and infrastructure hauled into a fight whose outcome is always uncertain. Rather, it is the fact that having found themselves tasked with the winning of a war against a terrorist threat that the American people now rightly think essential, the military understands that this requires a war-winning strategy.

The president embarrassed himself earlier this month when he said that he was still searching for a strategy to defeat ISIS, a position he reversed last week when he announced his order for the campaign. But by setting absolute limits on the willingness of the United States to actually fight and win the conflict, he sent ISIS a signal that he was not as committed to battle as they were.

The point here isn’t necessarily to advocate that the use of American troops in Iraq or Syria is a good or necessary thing. It is to note, as General Dempsey did in a rare moment of complete candor in congressional testimony, that it is not possible to rule their use out if the U.S. actually wants to win rather than merely manage the conflict. You don’t have to be another Lincoln, let alone a Napoleon or Alexander, to understand that when a political leader telegraphs the enemy that his country won’t commit to fighting them on the ground, it will encourage that foe to hang on. If the fight with ISIS is as vital to U.S. security as Obama now says it is—and he’s right about that—it’s fair to ask why he isn’t willing to keep all options on the table.

Pretending that the U.S. can beat ISIS by leading from behind with foreign proxies doing the hard slog on the ground is a formula for stalemate at best and possibly defeat. U.S. air power can influence the outcome of the battle and even do serious damage to ISIS. But such wars are won with troops on the ground pursuing counterinsurgency tactics.

President Obama is burdened with serious political constraints in a war-weary country and untrustworthy and often unsavory allies who are also opposed to ISIS. But even as we make allowances for the handicaps that he is laboring under, there is no disguising his lack of enthusiasm for the task as well as his lack of commitment to victory. What America lacks is not a strategy but a president who is ready to lead the country to victory. That will have to change if U.S. forces are to have any hope of success.

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Why the Passive Voice on Confronting ISIS?

There is something to be said for having an aloof, unemotional intellectual as commander in chief. He is more likely to avoid the kind of trap that Ronald Reagan fell into when, deeply distressed by the fate of American hostages seized in Lebanon, he authorized what became known as an “arms for hostages” swap with Iran. (In fairness, Reagan probably convinced himself that’s not what he was doing–that he was actually undertaking a broader opening to Iran.) This deal did get a few hostages out of captivity, but Iran’s proxies in Lebanon promptly seized more hostages, thus showing for neither the first time nor the last time why it doesn’t make sense to deal with terrorists.

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There is something to be said for having an aloof, unemotional intellectual as commander in chief. He is more likely to avoid the kind of trap that Ronald Reagan fell into when, deeply distressed by the fate of American hostages seized in Lebanon, he authorized what became known as an “arms for hostages” swap with Iran. (In fairness, Reagan probably convinced himself that’s not what he was doing–that he was actually undertaking a broader opening to Iran.) This deal did get a few hostages out of captivity, but Iran’s proxies in Lebanon promptly seized more hostages, thus showing for neither the first time nor the last time why it doesn’t make sense to deal with terrorists.

President Obama was not able to resist the temptation to make a deal in return for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl but he was right to do so–notwithstanding the tragic consequences–in the case of kidnapped American journalist James Foley. It is now emerging that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria wanted a ransom of more than $100 million for his release. European states routinely make such deals, turning them into al-Qaeda’s biggest financial supporters. (By one estimate Europeans have paid $125 million in ransom to al-Qaeda and its affiliates since 2008.) The problem is that while paying ransom may succeed in freeing one hostage or one group of hostages, it is almost certainly consigning more innocents to hellish captivity. The fact that the Obama administration refuses to pay up is to its credit; that Europeans are willing to deal with terrorists is to their ever-lasting shame.

And not only did Obama refuse to pay up, he ordered Delta Force to undertake a high-risk mission to free the hostages from a location in Syria deep in ISIS-controlled territory. That, too, was the right call. It shows, once again, that this is a president who is willing to pull the trigger on Special Operations missions that past presidents might have decided were too risky to authorize. Unfortunately that mission failed and James Foley wound up being barbarically murdered.

Obama was eloquent in denouncing this act of televised sadism, but he was unclear about what he will do in response. The most he would say was: “The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities. The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists. They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.” Note how passive this paragraph is–Obama is deliberately putting the onus on Iraqis and Syrians to fight ISIS without committing the U.S. to that group’s destruction.

Secretary of State John Kerry also issued a strong statement of condemnation, which concluded: “ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable.” Note again the curious sentence construction, which leaves unclear who exactly will “destroy” ISIS and who will hold Foley’s murderers “accountable.”

Unfortunately the president’s words and those of his aides don’t mean much in the world today–not after they have allowed red lines to be crossed with impunity from Syria to Ukraine. Strong action is needed and that action should be designed, as I have previously said, to annihilate ISIS.

General John Allen (USMC, ret.), Obama’s former commander in Afghanistan, gets it. He just wrote: “A comprehensive American and international response now — NOW — is vital to the destruction of this threat. The execution of James Foley is an act we should not forgive nor should we forget, it embodies and brings home to us all what this group represents. The Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later.”

I agree with General Allen, but does President Obama? It’s hard to tell. Alas, the longer we wait the more chance ISIS has to go to ground and thus withstand American military action. Already there are credible reports of ISIS “emirs” fleeing Iraq for Syria. But why should they find haven there? The Iraq-Syria border barely exists anymore. The U.S., working closely with local allies (Kurds, Sunni tribesmen, Iraqi security forces, Free Syrian Army fighters) must pursue ISIS wherever it hides and destroy it. It is far from clear, however, that President Obama will order any such action. It is a paradox that this president, so decisive in ordering Special Operations strikes, appears to be so hesitant and hand-wringing when it comes to larger decisions. The time for bureaucratic deliberation is fast disappearing; it is time, as General Allen says, for action now.

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The End of the Allen-Kelley “Scandal”

After Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of labor, was cleared of corruption charges, he famously and plaintively asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” That is a question that General John Allen might be asking himself today.

Yesterday afternoon the press office at the Pentagon issued this terse statement: “Secretary Panetta has been informed that the Department’s Office of Inspector General has concluded an investigation into a matter involving General John Allen, U.S. Marine Corps.  The Secretary was pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation.  The Secretary has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan.”

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After Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of labor, was cleared of corruption charges, he famously and plaintively asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” That is a question that General John Allen might be asking himself today.

Yesterday afternoon the press office at the Pentagon issued this terse statement: “Secretary Panetta has been informed that the Department’s Office of Inspector General has concluded an investigation into a matter involving General John Allen, U.S. Marine Corps.  The Secretary was pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation.  The Secretary has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan.”

Thus ended the “scandal” that has been the subject of so much feverish press speculation since early November involving Allen’s emails with a Tampa socialite named Jill Kelley—a relationship that was brought to light as a result of the controversy which brought down David Petraeus. There were numerous leaks insinuating there was something inappropriate going on between Allen and Kelley which, even if true, would be none of the public’s business. It is ridiculous that this whole matter was referred for official investigation in the first place and that the investigation has lasted some two months, leaving a dark cloud hanging over Allen’s future just as he had to deliver politically sensitive recommendations for future force levels in Afghanistan.

Presumably Allen will now proceed to confirmation for his next job, as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Let us hope that in that position he will have to fight only our nation’s enemies—not political snipers in Washington who engage in character assassination by innuendo.

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Assessing the White House’s Options for Post-2014 Afghanistan

If this New York Times leak is accurate, Gen. John Allen has presented his three options for force levels in Afghanistan post-2014. Low risk option: 20,000. Medium risk: 10,000. High-risk: 6,000.

My own view is that 20,000 is actually the medium-risk option–the low-risk option (or, more accurately, lower risk option) is 25,000 to 35,000 troops as argued in this policy paper from retired Gen. David Barno, a former commander in Afghanistan. (He subsequently argued in an op-ed that 10,000 troops would be adequate but gave no reason why his earlier analysis did not hold.)

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If this New York Times leak is accurate, Gen. John Allen has presented his three options for force levels in Afghanistan post-2014. Low risk option: 20,000. Medium risk: 10,000. High-risk: 6,000.

My own view is that 20,000 is actually the medium-risk option–the low-risk option (or, more accurately, lower risk option) is 25,000 to 35,000 troops as argued in this policy paper from retired Gen. David Barno, a former commander in Afghanistan. (He subsequently argued in an op-ed that 10,000 troops would be adequate but gave no reason why his earlier analysis did not hold.)

As for why 6,000 troops is grossly inadequate, I argued the point in this recent Washington Post op-ed in which I contend that this number would not only fail at supporting the Afghan security forces, it would also be too small for a counter-terrorism mission.

To be effective, Special Operations forces need to be deployed beyond Kabul. Afghanistan is such a vast country that it is simply impossible to generate intelligence and act on it if you have no outposts outside the capital region. But setting up those outposts–at a bare minimum we need a presence in Kandahar, the historic home of the Taliban, and in Jalalabad, the launching point for the raid to kill Osama bin Laden–will dramatically escalate troop requirements because each base needs to be protected and supplied. It is doubtful that 6,000 troops could get the job done, and yet I fear that whatever decision the White House ultimately makes it will be closer to 6,000 than to 20,000, much less 35,000.

It is understandable that the president wants to disengage from an unpopular war. But he should realize that there will be little difference in public sentiment whether there are 6,000 troops in Afghanistan or 30,000. Either way, Americans will be in harm’s way. They will actually be safer with a higher force level, which will allow better steps for force-protection and mission-accomplishment. Leaving a small number of troops isolated around Kabul would actually be a dangerous situation because every time they ventured off their fortified bases they would be assuming a great deal of risk because they would be going into enemy safe havens. That risk could be lowered, paradoxically, if more troops are operating in close conjunction with their Afghan counterparts every day to keep the enemy off balance.

It is not just the security of the United States or Afghanistan at stake here. It is also President Obama’s legacy. He, after all, embraced Afghanistan from the start as the “good war,” in contrast to Iraq. He more than tripled U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Like it or not, he has taken ownership of this war effort. It will not look good for his historical record if a substantial portion of the country falls to the Taliban–which, alas, is likely to happen absent a vigorous American role in bolstering the embattled Afghan government after 2014.

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Why Is Gen. Allen Still Under Investigation?

General John Allen is now back in Kabul, directing a major military campaign involving 68,000 U.S. troops and 37,000 allied troops. But he would have to be superhuman to keep his focus entirely on the war effort, for he is still under fire from the home front. According to the New York Times, “some 15 investigators” are “working seven days a week in the Pentagon inspector general’s office,” poring over emails exchanged between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who struck up friendships with many senior military officers.

The question is: Why? Is there some credible evidence that Allen somehow compromised our national security by his interactions with Kelley? Is Kelley suspected of being an al-Qaeda mole? Is Allen suspected of being another Benedict Arnold? Not that I’m aware of. To judge by the numerous leaks that have accompanied this puzzling investigation, an outgrowth of the same investigation that already forced David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, the worst that could have occurred is that Allen and Kelley might have exchanged a few emails judged to be flirtatious or even salacious. Is this really a matter that should be occupying the full-time attention of 15 investigators—and diverting the attention of a general in command of a war zone?

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General John Allen is now back in Kabul, directing a major military campaign involving 68,000 U.S. troops and 37,000 allied troops. But he would have to be superhuman to keep his focus entirely on the war effort, for he is still under fire from the home front. According to the New York Times, “some 15 investigators” are “working seven days a week in the Pentagon inspector general’s office,” poring over emails exchanged between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who struck up friendships with many senior military officers.

The question is: Why? Is there some credible evidence that Allen somehow compromised our national security by his interactions with Kelley? Is Kelley suspected of being an al-Qaeda mole? Is Allen suspected of being another Benedict Arnold? Not that I’m aware of. To judge by the numerous leaks that have accompanied this puzzling investigation, an outgrowth of the same investigation that already forced David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, the worst that could have occurred is that Allen and Kelley might have exchanged a few emails judged to be flirtatious or even salacious. Is this really a matter that should be occupying the full-time attention of 15 investigators—and diverting the attention of a general in command of a war zone?

Unless there is some bombshell here waiting to explode, the answer is a definitive no. So why did Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller permit the FBI to waste time on this investigation—and why is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wasting time on it now? I can’t answer those questions, but Congress should ask for itself and demand answers.

The biggest scandal in the whole Petraeus-Allen affair is that we are wasting taxpayer resources hounding two great generals who have dedicated their lives to defending our country over purely personal matters of no concern to their public duties.

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What on Earth Is the FBI Doing?

It is hard to know what to make of FBI agents hauling a computer and crates of documents out of Paula Broadwell’s house as if she were a mafia don or a terrorist kingpin. That the bureau is devoting these kinds of resources to this case suggests that there must not be a lot of crime or terrorism to deal with anymore. What’s going on? My theory: The FBI is on a fishing expedition to justify what looks to be its increasingly untenable decision to treat a few annoying emails, sent by Paula Broadwell to Jill Kelley, as quite literally a federal case.

As the Washington Post notes: “The surprise move by the FBI follows assertions by U.S. officials that the investigation had turned up no evidence of a security breach — a factor that was cited as a reason the Justice Department did not notify the White House before last week that the CIA director had been ensnared in an e-mail inquiry.”

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It is hard to know what to make of FBI agents hauling a computer and crates of documents out of Paula Broadwell’s house as if she were a mafia don or a terrorist kingpin. That the bureau is devoting these kinds of resources to this case suggests that there must not be a lot of crime or terrorism to deal with anymore. What’s going on? My theory: The FBI is on a fishing expedition to justify what looks to be its increasingly untenable decision to treat a few annoying emails, sent by Paula Broadwell to Jill Kelley, as quite literally a federal case.

As the Washington Post notes: “The surprise move by the FBI follows assertions by U.S. officials that the investigation had turned up no evidence of a security breach — a factor that was cited as a reason the Justice Department did not notify the White House before last week that the CIA director had been ensnared in an e-mail inquiry.”

If, in fact, there was no national security breach, then the FBI looks pretty suspect for outing the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, bringing down the CIA director, and causing great personal suffering to both families. So now, it seems, the FBI is intent on proving that there really was some national security justification for this whole investigation—that it wasn’t simply the work, as it appears to be, of one shirtless agent who was overly friendly with Kelley and happy to do her a favor by looking into emails that annoyed her. If press reports are accurate, the new focus of the FBI investigation is whether Broadwell has in her possession classified documents, and if so, whether they came from Petraeus.

Let us stipulate that it is quite possible that Broadwell (whom I don’t know) does have some classified information. If so, there is nothing particularly surprising or threatening about this. There are many different levels of classification and much of the routine paperwork that gets stamped “confidential” or “secret” or “nofor” (no foreign) should not be classified at all. The really sensitive stuff is protected by top secret and code-word clearances. But there is a vast amount of overclassification. To take one obvious example: the CIA has never publicly admitted that its training facility, known as The Farm, is located near Williamsburg, Virginia. If Petraeus were to casually mention its location to Broadwell, he would technically be in breach of the law—even though anyone who wants to know where The Farm is located can look on Wikipedia and find out.

I suspect that Broadwell may have access to such classified but non-sensitive information. So do countless other people who have any connection to the government or military. If the FBI is intent on nailing someone, it can do so by focusing on such trivial breaches. I hope that is not what is happening here.

For all of the investigation going on of Petraeus, Broadwell, Kelley and John Allen, I cannot help but conclude that what we desperately need is an investigation of the investigators. What on earth is the FBI up to? That is a question that Congress should address urgently.

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Enough Already About Military Groupies

I, for one, am beginning to long for the days when people, including generals and other public officials, were allowed to conduct their indiscretions discreetly. 

I just don’t think I can stand to hear another word about David Petraeus’s embarrassing mid-life crisis. Or about a hot mama (Jill Kelley) getting harassing notes from a not-quite-as-hot mama (Paula Broadwell) about a man neither of them had any business being proprietary about.

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I, for one, am beginning to long for the days when people, including generals and other public officials, were allowed to conduct their indiscretions discreetly. 

I just don’t think I can stand to hear another word about David Petraeus’s embarrassing mid-life crisis. Or about a hot mama (Jill Kelley) getting harassing notes from a not-quite-as-hot mama (Paula Broadwell) about a man neither of them had any business being proprietary about.

Half-baked insinuations about how many thousand pages of emails John Allen sent to Jill Kelley, and whether he called her “sweetheart” and/or “dear”? No, thanks.

Please, don’t fill me in about the custody case–or the Newport, Rhode Island cavortings–of Jill Kelley’s twin sister (yet another hot mama). I couldn’t care less that Paula Broadwell’s driver’s license was found in Rock Creek Park. And imagining those “topless” photos from an FBI agent to Jill Kelley is putting me right off my breakfast.

If the president decided that the CIA should be led by someone whose judgment is perhaps a bit more sound, so be it. And if Congress wants to wax indignant about who informed whom, and when, fine. That’s their prerogative. 

But leave me out of it. So . . .

Note to FBI: Stop leaking stuff! Note to anonymous sources: Shut up! Note to self: Stop reading about it!

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Report: Petraeus Resigned Because Affair Was Going Public

The Washington Post has some interesting details from friends of David Petraeus:

But some of his closest advisers who served with him during his last command in Iraq said Monday that Petraeus planned to stay in the job even after he acknowledged the affair to the FBI, hoping the episode would never become public. He resigned last week after being told to do so by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. on the day President Obama was reelected.

“Obviously, he knew about the relationship for months, he knew about the affair, he was in it, so yes, he was not going to resign,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and Petraeus’s executive officer during the Iraq “surge,” who spoke Monday with the former general for about half an hour. “But once he knew it was going to go public, he thought that resigning was the right thing to do. There is no way it would have remained private.”

Steven Boylan, who served as Petraeus’s public affairs officer during that same period in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, said the retired four-star general “felt he had to [resign] once he knew it would be made public. He didn’t feel he could lead the organization with this being out there.”

Even after Petraeus admitted the affair to the FBI, he still thought it would be kept under wraps. According to friends, he only stepped down once he “knew” it would be made public. What changed between late October and early November that led him to that conclusion?

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The Washington Post has some interesting details from friends of David Petraeus:

But some of his closest advisers who served with him during his last command in Iraq said Monday that Petraeus planned to stay in the job even after he acknowledged the affair to the FBI, hoping the episode would never become public. He resigned last week after being told to do so by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. on the day President Obama was reelected.

“Obviously, he knew about the relationship for months, he knew about the affair, he was in it, so yes, he was not going to resign,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and Petraeus’s executive officer during the Iraq “surge,” who spoke Monday with the former general for about half an hour. “But once he knew it was going to go public, he thought that resigning was the right thing to do. There is no way it would have remained private.”

Steven Boylan, who served as Petraeus’s public affairs officer during that same period in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, said the retired four-star general “felt he had to [resign] once he knew it would be made public. He didn’t feel he could lead the organization with this being out there.”

Even after Petraeus admitted the affair to the FBI, he still thought it would be kept under wraps. According to friends, he only stepped down once he “knew” it would be made public. What changed between late October and early November that led him to that conclusion?

Around that time, an FBI whistle blower informed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor about the affair, apparently out of concern there was a security breach. But at that point the FBI had already concluded this wasn’t the case. Was Petraeus worried the affair would be exposed through a congressional investigation? Did he have reason to think the whistle blower was going to spill the beans to the media?

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Will Afghan Security Fall Victim to Petraeus/Allen Scandal Too?

The scandal that has already claimed David Petraeus’s job as CIA director is now engulfing his onetime deputy at Central Command, John Allen, who is now the senior commander in Afghanistan and slated to become the next NATO military commander. Because he exchanged a lot of emails with Jill Kelley, the woman whose complaints about cyber-harassment started the FBI investigation that brought down Petraeus, Allen too is now suspected of some unspecified impropriety. It is hard to say too much based on the skimpy information provided so far, but this is, I fear, another tragedy in the making–on many levels.

First there is the personal angle which must never be forgotten: A lot of individuals–not only David Petraeus but also his onetime mistress, Paula Broadwell, and the Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, not to mention all of their spouses and offspring–are being dragged through the mud, subject to a searing national humiliation that you would not wish on your worst enemy, much less one of the greatest generals in our history. That Allen is being linked in would be particularly unfair if (as he says) he had no improper relationship with Kelley. Even if he did, it is not clear how this affects the public performance of his duties, or why the FBI is rooting around in this whole affair based on nothing more than one woman’s complaints about getting some nasty emails that, as far as we know, contained no actual threats of violence (usually the threshold for law enforcement involvement).

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The scandal that has already claimed David Petraeus’s job as CIA director is now engulfing his onetime deputy at Central Command, John Allen, who is now the senior commander in Afghanistan and slated to become the next NATO military commander. Because he exchanged a lot of emails with Jill Kelley, the woman whose complaints about cyber-harassment started the FBI investigation that brought down Petraeus, Allen too is now suspected of some unspecified impropriety. It is hard to say too much based on the skimpy information provided so far, but this is, I fear, another tragedy in the making–on many levels.

First there is the personal angle which must never be forgotten: A lot of individuals–not only David Petraeus but also his onetime mistress, Paula Broadwell, and the Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, not to mention all of their spouses and offspring–are being dragged through the mud, subject to a searing national humiliation that you would not wish on your worst enemy, much less one of the greatest generals in our history. That Allen is being linked in would be particularly unfair if (as he says) he had no improper relationship with Kelley. Even if he did, it is not clear how this affects the public performance of his duties, or why the FBI is rooting around in this whole affair based on nothing more than one woman’s complaints about getting some nasty emails that, as far as we know, contained no actual threats of violence (usually the threshold for law enforcement involvement).

This whole affair does not, of course, concern movie stars or musicians; it involves officials making national security decisions at the highest levels and those decisions are being affected by this sordid drama. Already the administration has lost in David Petraeus a man of wide experience in the Middle East and a keen appreciation of who are our enemies are and how to wage war against them that will be hard to replicate. Certainly the new national security team that is being touted by administration leaks–John Kerry at Defense, Susan Rice at State–could use some leavening by someone with Petraeus’s background and experience.

Now the vague charges being lodged against John Allen are imperiling his standing to provide objective advice to the administration as it decides how quickly to draw down troops in Afghanistan and how many to leave after 2014. Many senior voices in the administration, led by Vice President Biden, will counsel for the smallest commitment possible. It is Allen’s job as the U.S. military commander to provide objective advice and realistic options, including presenting the risks of maintaining too few forces. But his ability to push the best military advice is imperiled by the cloud hanging over his head. His nomination to be supreme allied commander, Europe, is already on hold and could be withdrawn altogether. If that were to happen, he would have to retire in disgrace. He is thus hardly in a good position to push back against senior administration officials dedicated to the illusion that a few thousand troops will be sufficient to safeguard long-term U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

It would be beyond unfortunate–it would in fact be a cosmic tragedy–if one of the victims of this unfolding scandal were thus to be the entire nation of Afghanistan, which is in real danger of being abandoned to the ravages of a civil war that various warlords are already preparing to fight.

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Gen. John Allen, FBI Agent Ensnared in Scandal

The Petraeus scandal continues to get stranger. The Wall Street Journal now reports that both Gen. John Allen–the leading candidate to command NATO in Europe–and the FBI agent who took up the initial investigation have been caught sending “inappropriate” emails to Florida socialite Jill Kelley. The FBI began the investigation over the summer after Kelley told them that she received harassing emails, which were eventually linked to Paula Broadwell. This is turning into a soap opera:

KABUL—U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Tuesday asked the Senate to put on hold the confirmation of the top commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, as the new NATO supreme allied commander for Europe following the discovery of allegedly inappropriate communications between the general and a Tampa social planner.

The planner, Jill Kelley, is at the center of a scandal involving Gen. Allen’s predecessor as the top coalition commander in Kabul, Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director last week after acknowledging an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. … 

As part of this inquiry, the FBI also uncovered some 30,000 pages of emails between Ms. Kelley and Gen. Allen, a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Mr. Panetta. The official declined to say whether these allegedly inappropriate emails contained discussions of a sexual nature, or classified information, according to the Associated Press. 

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The Petraeus scandal continues to get stranger. The Wall Street Journal now reports that both Gen. John Allen–the leading candidate to command NATO in Europe–and the FBI agent who took up the initial investigation have been caught sending “inappropriate” emails to Florida socialite Jill Kelley. The FBI began the investigation over the summer after Kelley told them that she received harassing emails, which were eventually linked to Paula Broadwell. This is turning into a soap opera:

KABUL—U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Tuesday asked the Senate to put on hold the confirmation of the top commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, as the new NATO supreme allied commander for Europe following the discovery of allegedly inappropriate communications between the general and a Tampa social planner.

The planner, Jill Kelley, is at the center of a scandal involving Gen. Allen’s predecessor as the top coalition commander in Kabul, Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director last week after acknowledging an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. … 

As part of this inquiry, the FBI also uncovered some 30,000 pages of emails between Ms. Kelley and Gen. Allen, a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Mr. Panetta. The official declined to say whether these allegedly inappropriate emails contained discussions of a sexual nature, or classified information, according to the Associated Press. 

According to the Journal, the FBI agent (and whistle blower) reportedly sent Kelley shirtless photos:

The FBI agent who started the case was a friend of Jill Kelley, the Tampa woman who received harassing, anonymous emails that led to the probe, according to officials. Ms. Kelley, a volunteer who organizes social events for military personnel in the Tampa area, complained in May about the emails to a friend who is an FBI agent. That agent referred it to a cyber crimes unit, which opened an investigation.  

However, supervisors soon became concerned that the initial agent might have grown obsessed with the matter, and prohibited him from any role in the investigation, according to the officials.

One official said the agent in question sent shirtless photos to Ms. Kelley well before the email investigation began, and FBI officials only became aware of them some time later. Eventually, supervisors told the agent he was to have nothing to do with the case, though he never had a formal role in the investigation, the official said. 

Both of these stories are odd for different reasons. We don’t know what kind of “inappropriate” emails the married Gen. John Allen was sending to the married Jill Kelley. But assuming they were just of the romantic nature and included no security breaches, why did such an embarrassing revelation go public? It sounds like something that could have just as easily been swept under the rug by the FBI and the Pentagon. Military laws against adultery are rarely enforced, and there’s no indication as of now that adultery technically took place.

As for the second story, the allegations seem to be that the FBI agent sent a shirtless photo to Kelley, a friend of his, well before the investigation began. What is the point of leaking that detail to the media, other than to embarrass him publicly? Remember, this guy was the whistle blower who initially tipped off Eric Cantor about the investigation. Now he’s suddenly under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility for reasons that are unclear at best? Very disturbing.

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Attacks in Kabul Show Taliban’s Weakness

“This is our new tactic and is indicative of our strength.”

So said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid about Sunday’s insurgent attacks in Kabul and several other locations around Afghanistan. He was more right than he intended, for the attacks showed the Taliban’s weakness rather than their strength. For all the headlines about the capital city being “rocked” by gunfire and explosions, the impact of the insurgent attacks–most likely the work of the Haqqani Network, not the Taliban per se–was negligible.

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“This is our new tactic and is indicative of our strength.”

So said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid about Sunday’s insurgent attacks in Kabul and several other locations around Afghanistan. He was more right than he intended, for the attacks showed the Taliban’s weakness rather than their strength. For all the headlines about the capital city being “rocked” by gunfire and explosions, the impact of the insurgent attacks–most likely the work of the Haqqani Network, not the Taliban per se–was negligible.

Just look at the casualty count: Apparently two Afghan police officers were killed in the attacks and 14 injured along with some 30 civilians. There were no reports of any serious casualties to Americans or other international forces. The attackers failed to gain possession of the Parliament building or any other target, and they were swiftly defeated by Afghan Security Forces who needed minimal assistance from coalition forces. Gen. John Allen, the senior NATO commander in Afghanistan, said: “I am enormously proud of how quickly Afghan security forces responded to today’s attacks in Kabul. They were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated. They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained.”

Any imputation that the insurgents are on the verge of taking Kabul–or even seriously destabilizing it–is far off the mark. I visited the capital two weeks ago and found, as I have previously noted, that the streets are thronged with people: hardly the sign of a city under siege. I remember Baghdad in the dark days of 2006-2007 when entire neighborhoods were ghost towns. There is nothing like that going on in Kabul. That is not to deny the seriousness of the insurgency but simply to note that it is not a major, ongoing threat in Kabul. Otherwise, the residents of the capital would not feel safe to move around as freely as they do. There has not been a major insurgent attack in the capital in half a year. If this is the best the Haqqanis could do for a comeback, their efforts are indicative of the growing weakness of the insurgency and the growing strength of the security forces.

That is not to say that a positive outcome in Afghanistan is inevitable–it is anything but. However, it does indicate that if we lose, it will be because of our ardent desire to pull out–not because the Taliban have the capacity to evict us or to defeat our Afghan allies. This is so as long as they receive a reasonable amount of aid to counterbalance the aid the insurgents receive from Pakistan.

 

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Afghan Deal Would Be a Win-Win

Chalk it up to Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen–our dynamic duo in Kabul. They can get results even in the most unpromising circumstances.

Recently, they completed a deal to transfer custody of the main U.S. detention facility to Afghan control while maintaining American oversight and an American veto on any prisoner releases. Now they appear to be on the verge of concluding an agreement that would allow “night raids”–heavily criticized by President Hamid Karzai for their supposed infringement on Afghan sovereignty–to continue with only mild modifications. Afghan judges will be required to approve the raids but their approval apparently will be obtainable after the fact–which means that the secrecy essential for these operations will not be compromised.

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Chalk it up to Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen–our dynamic duo in Kabul. They can get results even in the most unpromising circumstances.

Recently, they completed a deal to transfer custody of the main U.S. detention facility to Afghan control while maintaining American oversight and an American veto on any prisoner releases. Now they appear to be on the verge of concluding an agreement that would allow “night raids”–heavily criticized by President Hamid Karzai for their supposed infringement on Afghan sovereignty–to continue with only mild modifications. Afghan judges will be required to approve the raids but their approval apparently will be obtainable after the fact–which means that the secrecy essential for these operations will not be compromised.

Assuming the deal is sealed, this will be an important victory that will allow coalition forces to continue employing one of their most effective counter-terrorist tools while still giving the appearance of respecting Afghan sovereignty.

 

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