Army Gen. Petreaus Would Retire To Head CIA

President Obama's nominee to head the CIA was on Capitol Hill Thursday for a confirmation hearing. The Senate Intelligence Committee asked Gen. David Petraeus about many things, including Obama's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Petreaus also told the panel that to do the CIA job properly, he would retire from the Army.

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General David Petraeus is changing careers, from being the military's best known general to the director of the CIA. At his confirmation hearing yesterday, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee quizzed General Petraeus about how he's going to make that transition. But as Tamara Keith reports, first on their minds was President Obama's Afghanistan policy.

TAMARA KEITH: Afghanistan was on a lot of senators' minds yesterday, and it seems they couldn't resist asking the commander of forces there, what he thought of President Obama's decision to withdraw the 33,000 surge troops by the end of next summer. General Petraeus said the president's timeline was more aggressive than what military commanders recommended. Still, he told senators, over and over again, that he stands behind the president's decision.

DAVID PETRAEUS: This is not about me. It's not about an individual commander. It's not about a reputation. This is about our country. And the best step for our country, with the commander and chief having made a decision, is to execute that decision to the very best of our ability.

KEITH: Although at times it was hard to tell, what with all the questions about Afghanistan, this was a confirmation hearing for a civilian job, the director of the CIA. General Petraeus wore his Army uniform with four stars on each shoulder and a mass of ribbons on his chest.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland repeated a question she had asked the general privately earlier.

BARBARA MIKULSKI: I wanted to know not about General Petraeus, who I tremendously respect and admire, but who was going to be Mr. Petraeus, who was going to be Dr. Petraeus, and who in the heck was going to be director Petraeus.

KEITH: General Petraeus anticipated this line of questioning and the implication that he can't expect to run the CIA like you'd give orders to a soldier. He said, if confirmed, he plans to retire from the Army. That's something not all military officers turned CIA directors have done.

PETRAEUS: I'm taking off the uniform that I've worn proudly for 37 years, to do this job, I think, in the right way.

JANE HARMAN: That will be a real culture shock, I would think, for him.

KEITH: Jane Harman is director of the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former member of congress.

HARMAN: He is America's favorite soldier. He is the Eisenhower of his generation or the George Washington of his generation. That's pretty heady stuff. And he's going into a job and an environment where being invisible is preferred.

KEITH: Harman says the key will be winning over the people in the CIA, who in the past, have resisted those who come from outside. There will be no end of issues that Petraeus will deal with at CIA. Nuclear proliferation, cyber security, terrorism - and there will still be Afghanistan.

Over the years as a commander of troops, Petraeus has been a major consumer of intelligence. He also developed the counterinsurgency strategy now being used in Afghanistan. CIA analysts have been skeptical of whether that strategy is the right course, which, if confirmed, could put Petraeus in an awkward position says former CIA director Mike Hayden.

MIKE HAYDEN: And one of that organization's functions is going to be giving him a grade for what it is he's done in Iraq or he's done in Afghanistan. That's true. That's not an insurmountable challenge, but it is true.

KEITH: Petraeus attempted to head off that concern even before he was asked about it.

PETRAEUS: Clearly, I have views on the efforts in which I've been engaged. I've shared them, in the past, with the agency's analysts and I'll do so in the future. However, if confirmed, when I am in the situation room with the president, I will strive to present the agency position.

KEITH: Hayden who held the CIA job says he's confident Petraeus can be an honest broker. But he has this caution to a man who may take the job he once held.

HAYDEN: We are the nation's first line of defense. We accomplish what others cannot accomplish. And we go where others cannot go. And as much as David Petraeus was experienced, as much as Mike Hayden was experienced, we have not experienced another organization like this one.

KEITH: If confirmed, General Petraeus will become Director Petraeus in September.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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