Petraeus tells Senate panel he’ll work to win over CIA, leave “military braintrust” behind

Laura Rozen

Gen. David Petraeus, testifying at his CIA director confirmation hearing yesterday, defended President Obama's Afghanistan surge drawdown plans--but also acknowledged that as the outgoing top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, he would have preferred to keep a larger force in place through the fall of 2012.

"There are broader considerations beyond those just of a military commander," Petraeus told the Senate intelligence panel yesterday, the New York Times reported. "The commander in chief has decided, and it is then the responsibility, needless to say, of those in uniform to salute smartly and to do everything humanly possible to execute it."

"I'm not a quitter," he added, referring to questions as to whether he considered resigning over Obama's decision to withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, and a total of 33,000 U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by September 2012. The remaining 68,000 U.S. forces would be gradually withdrawn by 2014.

But analysts noted that the testimony involved a delicate balancing act for the exceptionally politically savvy Petraeus--who looks likely to sail towards swift and unanimous confirmation.

"As Mr. Obama's nominee to take over the C.I.A., General Petraeus faced the Senate panel in an awkward position: he is the leading champion of a counterinsurgency strategy, which requires large numbers of troops, from which the White House is gradually turning away," the New York Times' Scott Shane and Tom Shanker wrote. "Yet in moving to the C.I.A., he will take command of the spy agency that has become central to the Obama administration's counterterrorism efforts, carrying out hundreds of missile strikes from unmanned drone aircraft over Pakistan. Administration officials have hailed the drone program's achievements in weakening Al Qaeda as part of the justification for drawing down troops in Afghanistan."

Petraeus assured the Senate panel he was enthusiastic about the prospect of leading the civilian intelligence agency, and would take aggressive measures to win over the agency. Veteran CIA officers are notoriously skeptical of outsiders and frustrated over what they see as growing military dominance of the U.S. intelligence community.

"I have no plans to bring my military brain trust with me to the agency," Petraeus testified, the Washington Post's Walter Pincus reported. "If confirmed, I will, in short, get out of my vehicle alone on the day that I report to Langley."

Petraeus said that upong moving over to the CIA, he would retire from an almost four-decade career in the army, hang up his uniform, and address CIA employees with the message: "You all should know that I'm here to recruit you, and I know that you're here to recruit me," Pincus reported. Petraeus said he would be "reaching out, reaching down," and would make a point of eating lunch in the CIA cafeteria several times a week--in the tradition of his predecessor, Leon Panetta, who won unanimous confirmation in the Senate this week as the new secretary of Defense.

If he does win confirmation, Petraeus has made it clear that he'll be operating on far tighter budget constraints than he did as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The entire annual CIA budget now represents less than the cost of one month of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

"The cost of the Afghanistan war has grown to $10 billion a month, while the total annual CIA budget is estimated at $6 billion," Pincus wrote. "After noting that the exact figure is classified, Petraeus told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: 'If our country gets the great CIA with that size budget, it's the best bargain we have as a nation.'"

(Under the watchful eye of one of his security guards, CIA Director nominee Gen. David Petraeus looks through his notes on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday,June 23, 2011, prior to testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on his nomination: Cliff Owen/AP Photo.)