Will the CIA and Pentagon be ready for the next crisis?
Leon Panetta and President Obama
April 28th, 2011
11:27 AM ET

Will the CIA and Pentagon be ready for the next crisis?

In my op-ed in The Washington Post today, I argue that the Pentagon, the CIA, and indeed the United States need to be better prepared for geopolitical, economic and natural disasters. In particular, we should pay attention to the possibility of instability in Saudi Arabia. That would be a global game-changer. Here's an excerpt from the full piece:

As Leon Panetta and David Petraeus move into their new jobs at the Pentagon and the CIA, they should use the occasion to fundamentally reorient U.S. intelligence and national security planning....

Government agencies should be readying policymakers and bureaucrats for sharp changes in international, regional and national patterns. They should be imaginative about the possibilities of sudden shifts and new circumstances and force policymakers to confront the scenarios in advance.

That is what has distinguished the most successful private-sector firms in managing crises....

I hope that at the highest levels of the U.S. government, there are multiple scenarios envisioned for a crisis in Saudi Arabia. Of all the possible effects of events in the Middle East, the most complex by far would be serious protests in Saudi Arabia. This is not probable, but it is possible.

The Saudi monarchy has roots in its society, a compact with powerful religious groups and staggering amounts of money with which to bribe its people. But still, there are fissures in the society — most notably between Shiites and Sunnis. If they were to erupt, there would be seismic implications ($200-a-barrel oil, anyone?), and Washington would have to react shrewdly and quickly.

It would make perfect sense to have a basic set of responses planned and even discussed with our allies instead of having to react on the fly as television images demand action in the heat of the moment.

The other way to be prepared is to be in a position of stable finances and commitments, so you can deal with a shock. The analogy with the private sector holds here, too. The key to riding out a financial crisis is to not be overleveraged but to have comfortable reserves of cash that will allow you to manage difficult times. The United States is overextended in every sense: struggling with debt, fighting military actions in multiple places and beginning to be hit by a demographic time bomb. We might be able to navigate through all this as long as we don’t hit another big crisis. That’s not a comfortable place to be.

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Topics: From Fareed • Global • Intelligence • Strategy

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    If you stress the importance of maintaining stability in Saudi Arabia, the whole situation resembles containing a fuel tank in a gun-powder factory. You have to make sure, that nobody sets the factory alight. As long as social injustice and suppression are not addressed, there will be constant unrest. It's the greed for wealth and the hunger for power that are the driving forces behind their violent causes.

    April 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  2. Onesmallvoice

    Unless the right-wing thugs in Washington manufacture one,there won't be an overseas crisis of any consequence. What we need to do is to curtail both the military and the C.I.A. as the latter did far more harm than any good around the world which would go a long way in balancing the national budget.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  3. S. Cornett

    Your assertion that the intelligence community "... should be imaginative about the possibilities of sudden shifts and new circumstances and force policymakers to confront the scenarios in advance." is, in my view, far off the mark. No one in the intelligence community or anywhere else in non-congressional offices can "force" policy makers to confront anything rationally – short of outright blackmail. My own reading of this dysfunctional arrangement is not a lack of actionable intelligence or imaginative interpretations. The biggest problem by far is the ability of policy makers and political appointees to distort available intelligence to align with irrelevant or self-serving political ideology. As you and I have said for years now. we have too many people clinging to ideology instead of facing problems head-on and finding solutions that do not consider or respect anyone's ideology.

    .

    May 1, 2011 at 10:31 am | Reply

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