Friday, November 09, 2012

Warrior-Hero Petraeus Falls on His Sword

The resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus has provided a shock to post-election Washington today.  Petraeus, who was the hero of the surge in Iraq, literally wrote the book on counter-terrorism for the US military, and led the Afghanistan effort for the allies as well before returning stateside to head the CIA, resigned because of an extra-marital affair that was about to become publicly known.

To me, there is something a little fishy about the resignation and its timing.  Of course, a CIA Director should have impeccable behavior, so as not to attract trouble, attention, or, especially, blackmailers.  That's exactly what's fishy about it, though:  the blackmail threat depends on the CIA Director trying to keep the affair secret.  Once it's out in the public, that danger is reduced.  And, while we should all behave ourselves and obey our marriage vows, adultery is not sufficient ground--even in the shark tank of Washington--to force a powerful, popular military hero like Petraeus to have to resign his position.

What I have heard today is that his lover, a glamorous woman who is his official biographer, may have--I repeat, may have--had private access to classified documents.  There is apparently an FBI investigation of this possibility.  Actually, I don't find this very unusual, except for the fact that Petraeus, as CIA Director, is not supposed to have any life or privacy.

One could conclude that this is another case of how the fishbowl in Washington tends to make life in it untenable for normal people, but there is a wrinkle, a story that is not quite emerging.  I got a hint of it in the days before the election, when I read in one of the blogs that compiles political news that Mitt Romney's silence on The Benghazi Affair in the last days was not due to his inability to make a coherent attack on the Administration's behavior before, during, or after it, but because he had been advised--in his confidential briefings on national security which he, as the nominee of a major party, had been receiving--that the Libya story would end up principally faulting Petraeus' CIA, rather than Obama and the State Department.  Romney, according to the story, did not want to take on Petraeus, a presumed Republican (though that may not be correct) and certainly a figure of popular respect, so he had gone silent on the issue, though many in his party were eager for him to continue his attacks in the final days of the campaign.

I didn't credit the story at the time:  Romney had backed off his hawkish critique of Obama at the foreign policy debate, and, after twice putting his foot in his mouth about Benghazi, it made sense to me for him to keep quiet, regardless of where the story was going.  It now appears to me, though, that Petraeus knew his days were numbered because of Benghazi, and with his private behavior compromised, decided it was the right time to end his public service and avoid putting everyone through the wringer.  That painful experience will apparently fall to Michael Morell, a long-time intelligence pro who will be the acting CIA Director and apparently is a good candidate for accountability.  If Morell can successfully defend the Agency's actions in Libya, I'm guessing he would earn the job permanently.

I like the ring of this title--sounds like something from the Iliad.

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