Gen. Clapper channels Westmoreland?

February 22, 2012

Gen. William Westmoreland with Henry Kissinger at a Georgetown reception. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)

Take, for example, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper’s appearance last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D- Mich.) told Clapper he was concerned about “recent news reports that the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)” shows a “difference of views between the intelligence community and our military commanders over the security situation in Afghanistan.”

The dissenting views were signed by Gen. John R. Allen, head of U.S. forces there, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Gen. James Mattis, head of the Central Command and Admiral James G. Stavridis , the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe — not exactly a group you want to trifle with.

Are the news reports accurate? Levin asked.

Well, yes, Clapper said, those officials “took issue with the NIE on three counts having to do with the force structure, didn’t feel that we gave sufficient weight to Pakistan and its impact as a safe haven and generally felt that the NIE was pessimistic” about the situation in Afghanistan and “the prospects for post-2014,” when troops are to withdraw.

Clapper tried to ease Levin’s concerns. “If you’ll forgive a little history, sir,” he began. ”I served as an analyst briefer for General [William] Westmoreland in Vietnam in 1966.” Clapper said he learned there that it’s typical that the “operational commanders sometimes don’t agree” with the intelligence team’s assessment of their efforts.

Westmoreland, we recall, was notorious for predicting victory in Vietnam, telling an enthusiastic Congress in 1967 that, with time, “we will prevail in Vietnam over the Communist aggressor.”

Perhaps Clapper might want to leave comparisons to Westmoreland out of it? Not a confidence-booster, after all.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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