As if a national election that may have realigned political power in America for a generation or two, with the Republican Party in tatters and now irrelevant, even if they don’t believe it, wasn’t enough – and as if the looming so-called fiscal cliff, where the administration and Congress must agree on something or the next Great Depression begins in January as taxes jump up and most federal spending comes to a halt, weren’t enough – now the head of the CIA has abruptly resigned in what seems to be a sex scandal, and the guy who replaced him as the top man in charge of our war in Afghanistan is under investigation in a separate but somehow interlocking sex scandal, or not. And by the way, Syria is still in its civil war, with Israel and Turkey now lobbing in shells from either side for good measure, indicating that could get way out of hand, and Iran is still working on those nukes too, and the stock market has dropped like a rock for a week over fears Greece is gone and Europe will implode, economically of course – and Japan, the world’s third largest economy, just plunged into an official full-blown recession. These are interesting times. A sex scandal is the least of our worries.
That’s what people will follow of course – the other stuff is too dire and too depressing. It’s just that it’s so hard to keep it all straight. New news breaks all the time and maybe the only thing to do is to keep refreshing the Wikipedia page on the current scandal – and keep clicking on the links at the bottom of the page as they multiply.
Even that is far too slow, but briefly, David Petraeus, the four-star general who saved the day in Iraq and then was sent to do the same in Afghanistan, after various generals were relieved for incompetence or insubordination, who was then named to head the CIA by Obama – considered the finest military mind since Eisenhower and who was once seriously considered as Romney’s running mate – had an affair with Paula Broadwell, the sexy and ambitious author of his biography, “All In.” Yes, everyone sees the irony in that title now, but the tale itself lacks irony. The FBI got a tip from Jill Kelley, a socialite of sorts and a volunteer social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Bay – Broadwell had sent her threatening emails – keep your hands off my general, you horny bitch and that sort of thing. Kelley kept those emails and those led in turn to the FBI finding all the nasty sexually explicit emails that Petraeus and Broadwell had been sending each other.
Then it got complicated. The FBI agent looking into the threats Broadwell had sent to Jill Kelley, developed a crush on Jill Kelley and sent her pictures in which he was shirtless and presumably sexy as hell, or so he hoped – so the FBI took him off the case. That made him mad so he contacted Eric Cantor and a bunch of other congressional Republicans to make sure no one dropped the investigation. No one did, but no one moved very fast. The FBI concluded that there was nothing criminal going on and no real security issues were at play – there was no secret stuff in any of anyone’s emails. If anything, this was a personnel matter for the administration, so it moved up through the system and Obama found out about it two days after the election and Petraeus resigned the next day. Petraeus had shown poor judgment, but then the affair had ended in July. All this was tawdry and perhaps tragic, but there wasn’t much of a scandal. It was just sad.
Then it got weird. John R. Allen, the Marine Corps four-star general who had assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force as Commander, US Forces Afghanistan, succeeding Petraeus, seems to have been trading “inappropriate communication” with Jill Kelley – lots of it. Maybe it was nothing, or maybe he was just flirting, or maybe he’s a dirty old man and she’s a real slut after all, as Broadwell had told her in the first place. No one knows. Allen says there was no inappropriate communication and Obama says he stands by him, but the FBI and Pentagon are looking into all this.
Don’t even ask how Jill Kelley’s twin sister plays into all this. She doesn’t. Nevertheless, Allen had been appointed NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, to start that gig early 2013, pending confirmation by the Senate, and that’s on hold now. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has moved to speed up the nomination of General Joseph Dunford to command all the forces in Afghanistan – he’s got some holes to plug at the moment.
That’s the nub of it. The House and Senate intelligence committees are hopping mad that no one told them anything about any of this. They had to find all of it out from Fox News and CNN, and Fox News is sure Obama must have known about this and kept it quiet until after the election, as otherwise he would have lost, as this was his Watergate or something – or, alternatively, his buddies in the administration didn’t tell him about this, or anyone about this, for the same reason, until after the election – or, alternatively, this has something to do with what happened in Benghazi. Someone is covering up something – they don’t know what yet – but Obama did refuse to order anyone to rescue our ambassador who died there, even if they can’t quite prove it yet. Fox News of course also has a problem with this involving David Petraeus, one of their heroes – a man who is everything Obama is not. Cognitive dissonance is alive and well in their studios.
Fox News does what they do. Others simply point out that the FBI and all the rest did their job, reporting, per the rules, up the chain of command step by step, rules for something that wasn’t criminal at all, and wasn’t a national security issue at all either. No one lied about anything all along the way, and thus there seems to have been no conspiracy to cover up anything at all. The bureaucracy did what bureaucracies do with folks being no more than foolish.
The Onion puts it best:
Following the recent revelation that former CIA director David Petraeus conducted a protracted extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, sources confirmed today that the far-reaching scandal has widened to reveal that mankind, otherwise known as the species Homo sapiens, has been engaging in sexual intercourse for the past 200,000 years.
“While the situation appeared at first to be limited to this one sexual relationship between Gen. Petraeus and Ms. Broadwell, we see now that it is far more extensive than we had initially believed,” said an FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation. “Indeed, evidence shows Gen. Petraeus is, in fact, just one of literally billions of human beings who we now believe have on numerous occasions engaged in sexual intercourse over the last several hundred millennia.”
“No matter how far back we go, we just continue to find more and more corroborating proof of people having sex,” the official added. “There’s simply no end in sight.”
Who knew? Actually everyone knew. No matter what you hear on Fox News, there’s nothing much to worry about here, unless you’re Glenn Greenwald:
So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell’s physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime – at most, they had a case of “cyber-harassment” more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people – and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court.
That is a bit troubling, in a police-state sort of way, but that’s the America we live in after the Patriot Act. After 9/11 we gave away our Fourth Amendment rights, rather completely. They’re not coming back. Like all presidents, Obama quickly discovered that the ability to be able to find out most everything is the only way to keep a lid on potential chaos. All search and seizure is somehow permissible. That’s the new normal, as they say – and being able to find out most everything is even easier now. Hire a geek or two.
We’ll have to live with that, but Michael Hastings sees an even deeper systemic problem in what just happened:
Petraeus’ crash is more significant than the latest nonsense sex scandal. As President Obama says, our decade of war is coming to an end. The reputations of the men who were intimately involved in these years of foreign misadventure, where we tortured and supported torture, armed death squads, conducted nightly assassinations, killed innocents, and enabled corruption on an unbelievable scale, lie in tatters. McChrystal, Caldwell, and now Petraeus – the era of the celebrity general is over. Everyone is paying for their sins. (And before we should shed too many tears for the plight of King David and his men, remember, they’ll be taken care of with speaking fees and corporate board memberships, rewarded as instant millionaires by the same defense establishment they served so well.) Before Dave fell for Paula, we fell for Dave. He tried to convince us that heroes aren’t human. They are human, like us, and sometimes worse.
We are to blame here, or so it seems. We fell for this man’s bullshit, which is what Andrew Sullivan discusses:
I have to say I never bought the Petraeus hype, for a couple of reasons. The first was that he seemed to me to be a bullshitter for his country. His job was to somehow rescue the Iraq catastrophe. He entered the scene just as the Anbar tribes decided they’d had enough of al Qaeda, and as the mass killings were declining due to exhaustion. Yes, Petraeus deserves great credit for noticing this and capitalizing on it – but all the BS about counter-insurgency strategy and the intellectual generals’ general … the whole savior-mythology always struck me simply as a way to save face from military defeat. The myth of Petraeus was necessary to restore some semblance of credibility to the US military in the wreckage of the doomed Bush-Cheney wars. And funny how in Afghanistan, all that hug-a-civilian strategy in Iraq was swiftly abandoned by Petraeus himself, as he droned the crap out of al Qaeda and the Taliban.
And for Sullivan, the savior-mythology took another hit when he ended up at a private dinner party with Petraeus:
I was the usual turd in the punchbowl and kept grilling Petraeus on answers: when would we get out of Iraq? How? Doesn’t real counter-insurgency require decades, i.e. a version of long-term civilizing imperialism? And what about Afghanistan? How could it work there? Wouldn’t it take a century of neo-imperialism? It was clear to me that he wasn’t used to being asked such questions by journalists and the brutal truth was, I came away from the lunch thinking this dude is improvising like hell and it seems to be working, when nothing did before. So give him his due, but spare me the hagiography.
There was also more to it:
I got a good glimpse of what this man’s skill really was: watching the open jaws and worshipping eyes of the hacks around the table, I could see this man was a superb Washington operator – like Colin Powell without any military victories. To spin the rush to exits in Iraq as a masterful American-led strategy – rather than a mixture of luck, courage, sectarian exhaustion and the Anbar switcheroo – was his greatest achievement. That is not necessarily a criticism of course. Good generals need political support, and need to stroke the press and Congress. But there was something about the journalistic swoon that unnerved me. The acceptance of all his bullshit about the genius of the “surge” – when it quite clearly succeeded in getting us out of there but plainly failed to bring about the national reconciliation it promised – also got under my skin.
Many also quote Stewart Ackerman in this item – an indulgent media helped build Petraeus up, and Ackerman now, to his shame, realizes he was part of the problem, starting early on in Kansas:
One of Petraeus’ aides underscored a line that several other members of the Petraeus brain trust would reiterate for years: “He’s an academic at heart,” as Pete Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who served as Petraeus’ executive officer during the Iraq surge, puts it. There was a purpose to that line: It implied Petraeus wasn’t particularly ambitious, suggesting he was content at Fort Leavenworth and wasn’t angling for a bigger job. I bought into it, especially after I found Petraeus to be the rare general who didn’t mind responding to the occasional follow-up request. …
Petraeus recognized that the spirited back-and-forth that journalists like could be a powerful weapon in his arsenal. “His ability to talk to a reporter for 45 minutes, to flow on the record, to background or off-the-record and back, and to say meaningful things and not get outside the lane too much – it was the best I’ve ever seen,” Mansoor reflects.
It paid dividends. On the strength of a single tour running the 101st Airborne in Mosul, Newsweek put the relatively unknown general on its cover in 2004 under the headline Can This Man Save Iraq? (It’s the first of three cover stories the magazine wrote about him.) Petraeus’ embrace of counterinsurgency, with its self-congratulatory stylings as an enlightened form of warfare that de-emphasized killing, earned him plaudits as an “intellectual,” unlike those old-fashioned, gung-ho, blood-and-guts sort of commander[s] as Time’s Joe Klein wrote in 2007. This media narrative took hold despite the bloody, close-encounter street fights that characterized Baghdad during the surge.
Sullivan concludes this:
I am yet to be convinced that there was anything of much import in the general’s extra-marital affair – except Broadwell’s lover’s hagiography posing as journalism. It all seems petty and largely irrelevant to me, given what I’ve read so far. Blackmail potential? The fact that Petraeus immediately confessed suggests he would have been impervious to it. Did an affair affect Petraeus’ second major PR achievement in losing another war while claiming to win it? Not that I can detect.
But we’ll be out of there soon enough, won’t we? The rest is human.
There’s something to this. Those of us who chat with senior officers – yes, even a sixties-bleeding-heart liberal here in Hollywood does that, and knows where that good pipe shop used to be on the second-level concourse at the Pentagon – have heard tales of Petraeus the self-serving clever guy who knows how to work the system, or more precisely, how to play the game. Some guys are not impressed, some are resentful, and this started early. In his senior year at West Point, Petraeus dated the Commandant’s daughter, then a senior at Dickenson, and then married her. That was a good move. Yes, she’s not so happy now – and the few who saw the bullshitter all along could have warned her. That means that if nothing else, this sex scandal, such as it was, was useful. It’s just that it wasn’t about sex, or the election, or Benghazi. The house of cards fell.
Maybe this doesn’t matter very much. There’s lots of talent in the Army, but then Petraeus wasn’t in the Army anymore. He was running the CIA after all. Thinking about that, Robert Wright suggests we all stop thinking about sex and cleverness and hidden conspiracies and think about the real scandal here, the fact that this particular guy somehow ended up at the CIA in the first place:
When, in the fall of 2011, David Petraeus moved from commanding the Afghanistan war effort to commanding the CIA, it was a disturbingly natural transition. I say “natural” because the CIA conducts drone strikes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and is involved in other military operations there, so Petraeus, in his new role, was continuing to fight the Afghanistan war. I say “disturbingly” because this overlap of Pentagon and CIA missions is the result of a creeping militarization of the CIA that may be undermining America’s national security.
Think about it:
The militarization of the CIA raises various questions. For example, if the CIA is psychologically invested in a particular form of warfare – and derives part of its budget from that kind of warfare – can it be trusted to impartially assess the consequences, both positive and negative, direct and indirect?
And then there’s the transparency question. A piece in the Washington Post noted concerns among some activists that “the CIA now functions as a military force beyond the accountability that the United States has historically demanded of its armed services. The CIA doesn’t officially acknowledge the drone program, let alone provide public explanation about who shoots and who dies, and by what rules.” Indeed, only a few months ago, in compliance with the War Powers Resolution, the Obama administration reported (vaguely) on targeted killings in Somalia and Yemen that had been conducted by the military, but not on those conducted by the CIA.
Wright thinks we’re focusing on the wrong thing:
The circumstances of Petraeus’ departure from the CIA are a little alarming; you’d rather your chief spy not be reckless. But the circumstances of his arrival at the CIA a year ago were more troubling. Yet no alarm was sounded that was anywhere near as loud as the hubbub surrounding Petraeus now. That’s scandalous.
Kevin Drum concurs:
As near as I can tell, drone warfare was largely handed over to the CIA precisely in order to avoid normal military accountability. That really is scandalous, but it attracted only fleeting notice. It’s probably too much to hope that the Petraeus scandal will cause anyone to rethink this, but rethink it we should.
We won’t. The world’s a mess in general and we’d rather think about sex. It’s easier, and actually it’s a whole lot more fun, and it only gets juicier:
Then-CIA Director David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, intervened in a Washington, D.C., custody battle in September, writing letters on behalf of a woman who was found by a judge to have a “severe deficit in honesty and integrity.”
The woman, Natalie Khawam, is the twin sister of Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who has emerged as a central figure in the scandal that led to Petraeus’ resignation last week.
The letters, which have been obtained by NBC News, were filed in court on behalf of Khawam, who the judge hearing the case harshly criticized for a “stunning willingness to say anything, even under oath, to advance her own interests.”
Birds of a feather stick together, and the twin sister had to fit in here somehow or other. This story will go on and on. The nation might not.