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Petraeus Will Be Good for CIA But Is the White House Being Good to Him?

We learned this morning that on Wednesday the White House is expected to announce that President Obama is expected to pick Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in charge in Afghanistan, to take Leon Panetta's place at the helm of the CIA. Mr. Panetta is the president's next pick for secretary of defense. 

I spent 90 minutes with General Petraeus at his office in Kabul last week. He is truly a asset to our country. Petraeus is a brilliant general and tactician. He’s an inspirational leader. And finally, he’s also got that indescribable something "extra." His earnest demeanor and intensity make everyone around believe in him and want him to succeed.

I asked Gen Petraeus about rumors that he was leaving Afghanistan in the fall, and what might be next. He said he still wanted to serve the country and there were only two jobs where he felt he could make a difference: either by serving as CIA Director or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Our discussion was off the record, and to respect that I will not quote the general. But my sense of his thinking is that being Director of CIA would give him the chance to make a crucial difference in defending the country.

First, America is war weary. We’re leaving Iraq, and winding down in Afghanistan. We’re unlikely to fight another large land war anywhere, and could be entering a neo-isolationist era. 

But that doesn’t mean our enemies will go away, or our problems disappear. We will still need a presence in trouble spots around the globe, and the best way to do that is through strong covert operations and special forces. All that means a critical role for the CIA in the months and years ahead.

Second, intelligence will be the key weapon in this new kind of warfare. In past wars we’ve known our enemy -- we've known where he lives, what country he reports to, what he looks like, how he will fight and what his weapons are. We have a lot of intelligence about our enemy which also means we know how to defeat him.

Now we find ourselves in a new era. It's a time of irregular, asymmetric warfare and we know none of those things about our enemies, especially Al Qaeda and radical Islamists. They are what's called "non-state actors." They don't live in a specific place, they don’t respect borders, but move instead from country to country and even do some of their most devastating work in cyberspace. They don’t necessarily work for a nation state, but set up shop in failed states. They don’t wear uniforms, or belong to regular military units. They don’t have an air force, a navy or a large land army or armies. Their soldiers are irregular fighters, using homemade and asymmetrical weapons, like IEDs or hijacked jets or cellphone-detonated bombs.

Petraeus’ job in Afghanistan is crucial, but he’s already done the hard part – coming up with a plan to fight and win the war there. He did it in Iraq, and the president asked him to do it in Afghanistan. He’s got a plan, it’s being implemented, and it can continue to be implemented by others.  

Still, I can’t help thinking that the Obama administration has done something a bit underhanded but politically shrewd by tapping Petraeus for the CIA. If he's confirmed for the post, the White House has managed to park a potential rival in a place where he will be neither be seen nor heard from for the next 18 months. 

Petraeus as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would have put the most respected American military leader in a generation in a position to challenge President Obama’s military policies. It would also give General Petraeus an even greater national national platform – should people try to draft him for a presidential or vice presidential run in 2012 or 2016.

The good news today is General Petraeus can continue to serve the country he loves, and America is a better and safer place because of that.

Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's DefCon 3. She is a Distinguished Adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger’s November 1984 "Principles of War Speech" which laid out the Weinberger Doctrine. Be sure to watch "K.T." every Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on FoxNews.com's "DefCon3" already one of the Web's most watched national security programs.

Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's "DefCon 3." She served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She was an aide to Dr. Henry Kissinger at the White House, and in 1984 Ms. McFarland wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger's groundbreaking  "Principles of War " speech.  She received the Defense Department's highest civilian award for her work in the Reagan administration.