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Could Widening Petraeus Scandal Affect Policy?


Beyond all the intrigue, are there any real policy implications to this drama? For that, we're joined by Michael O'Hanlon. He specializes in foreign policy and defense strategy at the Brookings Institution. Welcome to the program, Michael.

MICHAEL O'HANLON: Thank you. Nice to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, to start, as Tom Bowman just said, it's not clear that General Allen did anything wrong and yet essentially you have a situation where the general running our operations in Afghanistan is working under a sort of cloud. How does this affect the war in Afghanistan at all, policy there?

O'HANLON: Well, I am concerned and I'm very glad the way Tom underscored that we don't have any reason to think General Allen did anything wrong. I think General Allen is a very upstanding and effective leader. And my strong presumption is that he will be proven innocent. But in the meantime, we have delay. We have a cloud over command. We have uncertainty about whether he'll return and in what kind of a potentially compromised way.

And so it's quite important, this investigation happened fast. In fact, I hope it happens in the next 12 hours. I mean, if this is a question of looking at some emails to make sure that there was nothing illicit and there are a few hundred of them, you know, that should be done maybe by the end of the day. I mean, for heaven's sakes, I'm not sure that all these investigations really have enough basis in serious concern to be given such a life of their own.

And that's my biggest question of all right now.

CORNISH: At this point, could it have some implications for the leverage the military has with the White House when it comes to Afghanistan or other goals?

O'HANLON: I don't know about that. I think it's pretty clear that President Obama has established a style of working with his military command and I'm sure that General Allen's prescheduled visit to Washington was a part of that. It was continuous with previous efforts. President Obama likes options. He likes to be given choices. He likes to make the decisions, but he likes his subordinates, including military commanders, to help him understand the pros and cons of various ones.

And I'm sure a big issue here is how many troops we'll have in Afghanistan after this mission is over in 2014, but also, of course, how fast we will draw down next year. And my guess is that General Allen's developed not just some numbers, which are easy to write down on a piece of paper, but linking those numbers to actual missions we could conduct in the field and what the implications would be of different choices.

And I think that's what the president needs. He knows it's coming from a very accomplished and very - as Tom Bowman said, very cerebral and gifted military commander. The options are going to be well developed, irrespective of how this FBI investigation unfolds. And the president's going to make the call. I see no reason to think that would change. What will change is, obviously, the stature of the commander in Afghanistan, if this a protracted delay.

CORNISH: So let's turn to talk about the CIA. You know David Petraeus personally. What are the policies or changes that he brought to that agency and what's lost with his leaving?

O'HANLON: Well, it's a huge loss and it's very sad and we all know that. But I'm still hopeful that even though it would have been much better to have, you know, a five-year Petraeus period at the CIA, of continuity and stability and bringing his intellect and energy to the problem, but there's a lot of good things happening at the CIA already, many of which predated his arrival.

CORNISH: But we have a short time left and the CIA just has had several leaders in the last few years. And I mean, what is the problem here now that congressional leaders appear more and more incensed about the scandal?

O'HANLON: Well, you know, there's a number of things that are in that question. As for the Benghazi scandal, there's going to have to be another clear week of discussion about why we didn't have more protection in Benghazi and whether we could have responded. I think we should do lessons learned. The politicization of this, I think, has gone too far, but there's no reason not to address the substance.

As for the issue of change leadership and the number of leaders in recent years, that's why people were looking forward to a long Petraeus tenure. Obviously, we're not going to have that. I think there are very good people who could step in and hopefully have long tenures themselves, Mike Morrell(ph) , John Brennan, a number of others. But, you know, it is what it is.

CORNISH: Michael O'Hanlon of the Brooking Institution, where he's a senior fellow and director of research for the foreign policy program. Michael O'Hanlon, thank you.

O'HANLON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.