One of the dangers President Obama inherited in office was a persistent lack of clarity and consistency about the roles of American military and intelligence agencies in the Middle East and elsewhere. At the heart of the Obama policy was a split-level approach, often punctuated by top-down directives from the White House that came wrapped in with bureaucratic infighting.
That dynamic — the internecine fights among the intelligence community, Pentagon and the State Department, which would occasionally bleed over into the open — led many in the Pentagon to believe that instead of the principles of operational independence, autonomy and flexibility that President Obama himself had insisted on, the president and his subordinates sought to box in and impose a tight regulatory framework that would limit the military’s ability to do its job.
On Afghanistan, the latest example of the emerging rivalry between the various agencies, the circumstances of the drone strike that killed Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as he walked back into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul with a fiancée raised questions about how the U.S. military-intelligence agencies each operated independently and separately in Afghanistan and Turkey, and whether such clashes were a sign of a broader shift to a more centralized and centralized U.S. approach to counterterrorism.
On Afghanistan, the recent clash between the CIA and Pentagon may have been an unintended consequence of former Vice President Joe Biden’s endorsement of the approach that U.S. military and intelligence agencies are using there to wage the war, despite some vagueness around what that strategy is supposed to entail and what roles they’re each supposed to play.