The wrong man for the CIA

Gregory D. Johnsen writes: With the resignation of David H. Petraeus, President Obama now has a chance to appoint a new C.I.A. director. Unfortunately, one of the leading candidates for the job is John O. Brennan, who is largely responsible for America’s current flawed counterterrorism strategy, which relies too heavily on drone strikes that frequently kill civilians and provide Al Qaeda with countless new recruits. Rather than keeping us safe, this strategy is putting the United States at greater risk.

For all of the Obama administration’s foreign policy successes — from ending the war in Iraq to killing Osama bin Laden — the most enduring policy legacy of the past four years may well turn out to be an approach to counterterrorism that American officials call the “Yemen model,” a mixture of drone strikes and Special Forces raids targeting Al Qaeda leaders.

Mr. Brennan is the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser and the architect of this model. In a recent speech, he claimed that there was “little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for A.Q.A.P.,” referring to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Mr. Brennan’s assertion was either shockingly naïve or deliberately misleading. Testimonies from Qaeda fighters and interviews I and local journalists have conducted across Yemen attest to the centrality of civilian casualties in explaining Al Qaeda’s rapid growth there. The United States is killing women, children and members of key tribes. “Each time they kill a tribesman, they create more fighters for Al Qaeda,” one Yemeni explained to me over tea in Sana, the capital, last month. Another told CNN, after a failed strike, “I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined Al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake.”

Rather than promote the author of a failing strategy, we need a C.I.A. director who will halt the agency’s creeping militarization and restore it to what it does best: collecting human intelligence. It is an intelligence agency, not a lightweight version of Joint Special Operations Command. And until America wins the intelligence war, missiles will continue to hit the wrong targets, kill too many civilians and drive young men into the waiting arms of our enemies. [Continue reading...]

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