This post is featured on, and the copyright held by, The New York Times.
Although the departure of General Petraeus is a significant loss for the intelligence community, it is also an opportunity to better balance intelligence support for military and diplomatic operations.
This will be no easy challenge. Roughly 80 percent of the intelligence budget is financed through the Defense Department – an old administrative arrangement that was never meant to bias intelligence agencies’ support for military operations over diplomatic ones.
Since the end of the cold war, however, well-informed observers on both sides of the political aisle have seen a trend toward the militarization of intelligence operations. As the United States engaged in wars in Somalia, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan diplomatic budgets declined relative to military ones and the intelligence community increasingly justified operations by emphasizing support for the war planners and fighters.
Improved intelligence support to military operations is a good thing; we need to win the wars we fight. But perhaps the most important lesson from the Benghazi attack, during which an American ambassador lost his life trying to help Libyans build a new democracy, is that diplomacy is on the front line too. It also carries risks and needs strong intelligence to be effective.
The United States has over 280 diplomatic posts worldwide. They are working on drug interdiction, arms control negotiations, border security, counterterrorism, access to energy and trade, implementing sanctions, fair trade and the like. Intelligence helps diplomats recognize everything from cheating on agreements to social unrest and surprise attack. And it helps them make decisions that lower the risks and consequences of war.
The new director should rededicate the C.I.A. to supporting these diplomatic operations. Our ambassadors need robust intelligence to manage the Syrian crisis, ease the transition in Afghanistan, help advise and rebuild war-torn countries such as Libya, ensure the security of Americans and their borders, move food and other resources safely from ports to refugees, and resolve conflicts that cost U.S. companies money and jobs.
The new C.I.A. director needs to understand these non-military requirements and fight for the resources necessary to support civilian decision-making.
(Cowriten with Jennifer E. Sims)