Sunday, November 16, 2008

Obama National Security Transition Leader Close to Petraeus by Jeff Stein

Sarah Sewell may be coming to Washington from the lofty yards of Harvard, but she's well known in the capital's military corridors of power.

The Obama transition team yesterday named Sewell, on the faculty of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the university's Kennedy School of Government, as a team leader for the change of personnel at national security agencies.

But Sewell, a former Pentagon official in the Clinton administration, is also a close associate of Gen. David H. Petraeus, credited with turning around the situation in Iraq, mainly by crafting an alliance with Sunni tribal leaders against al Qaeda in Iraq, known as the Awakening.

In fact, Sewell forged a Pentagon-Harvard partnership that led to the creation of a new counterinsurgency doctrine, not just in Iraq, but other regions fighting off insurgencies.

To top off the program, she wrote the introduction to its defining project, the celebrated Counterinsurgency Field Manual, whose Forward was written by none other than Petraeus.

"The Sewell foreword ... really rocks," wrote one fan, military analyst Thomas Barnett wrote.

Sewell emphasized how the accidental deaths of civilians, a regular occurrence lately in Afghanistan, can set back U.S. counterinsurgency efforts.

"If one innocent civilian is killed it diminishes the goodwill of a whole family, a community, and a tribe," she wrote.

And it helps the enemy recruit.

"In this context killing the civilian is no longer just collateral damage. The harm cannot be easily dismissed as unintended. Civilian casualties tangibly undermine the counterinsurgent's goals."

Whatever one's take on her forward, Sewell's appointment suggests that Petraeus, now CENTCOM commander, is going to be around for a long while.

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