Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Idiot, Tramp

September 10th, 2007. That's the date MoveOn.org released a full page ad in the New York Times entitled "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" The motivation for the ad was a report on Iraq given to Congress by General Petraeus, who had taken over as the commander of the multi-national force in Iraq in the beginning of 2007. Essentially, MoveOn.org was claiming that the report Petraeus gave was a pack of lies, that the situation in Iraq had gotten much worse, and that the General was "cooking the books" for Bush and the Republicans who supported the war in Iraq. Predictably, the ad sparked a great deal of outrage from Republicans, the Bush Administration, and their supporters. Petraeus was--to the left--a Republican crony. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton basically agreed with MoveOn.org's ad, saying to Petraeus during hearings that:
The reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief...If you look at all the evidence that's been presented, overall civilian deaths have risen.
As the WaPo piece notes, by December it was clear that Petraeus' report was substantially correct, that there had been a reduction of violence in Iraq following the so-called "surge" championed by Petraeus. Hillary Clinton was clueless.

Fast forward to late 2008. Petraeus completed his command of forces in Iraq was given command of USCENTCOM (United States Central Command), headquartered in Tampa, thus overseeing military operations throughout the Middle East. He continued to hold this position even after Obama was elected President, until mid-2010 when President Obama asked him to take over control of forces in Afghanistan, to replace General McChrystal who had fallen into disfavor following the latter's critical comments about the Obama Administration in a Rolling Stone interview. Petraeus accepted, even though the move was technically a step down.

He completed his duties in Afghanistan just over a year later, to much fanfare and the appreciation of the Administration, prompted by Obama's desire to have Petraeus take over at the CIA. And that he did, retiring from the military in late 2011 and becoming CIA director a week later.

And now our tale must return to the beginning, to the MoveOn.org ad. Following the controversy created by the ad, MoveOn.org had maintained the ad on its website, along with a lengthy piece defending the ad from the criticisms it had received. But as soon as President Obama nominated Petraeus to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan the ad disappeared, as did the piece supporting it. In fact, MoveOn.org scrubbed every mention of the ad and the phrase--"General Betray Us"--from its site.

All of this appears to be the story of a career military/intelligence man who did what he was asked to do, who was an effective and trustworthy leader, who cared little for politics and refused to let concerns over such impact his decisions, who would not be intimidated by partisan attacks. Bush and Obama--bitter ideological foes--had no problem placing their trust in Petraeus, time and time again. If the story ended here, it would be the story of a hero, of a patriot, who always answered the call of his country. In fact, the story might even make a fine book.

It also appears to be the story of a deeply untrustworthy organization--MoveOn.org--that makes a point of putting politics ahead of everything else, of truth, of security, of safety for our troops and out citizens. And I guess, as the above book played out, MoveOn.org would play the the role of villain, along with people like Hillary Clinton, the perfect foils for our hero.

But none of this will be the story of General David Petraeus. Instead, his story will be one of scandal, adultery, and bad judgment. His affair with his would-be biographer--Paula Broadwell--is what he will be remembered for, particularly since the affair was discovered by the FBI, while it was investigating borderline-psychotic e-mails sent from Broadwell to another woman, Jill Kelley, who appears to have been nothing more than a family friend of the Petraeus'.

More details about the situation are emerging, but what strikes me the most are two things: first, Petraeus' apparent initial belief that he could remain director of the CIA even after the FBI approached him about the affair. And second, some of the steps taken by Petraeus and Broadwell to conceal their affair. Such as this (my boldface):
In examining her e-mail account, investigators found messages from Petraeus of a highly personal nature. The FBI suspected the communications were being sent by someone who had hacked into the CIA director’s personal account.  
The mistake apparently came in part from steps Petraeus and Broadwell took to conceal their relationship. According to the Associated Press, instead of sending e-mails to each other’s accounts, the two composed the messages and then left them in a “draft” folder where they could be accessed with a shared user name and password. The method, often used by terrorists, makes it harder to trace e-mail traffic. But in this case, it may also have fueled law enforcement concerns that a hacker was accessing the accounts.
Whenever a sex scandal breaks out involving public or political figures, a common defense is complaining how those who are outraged have antiquated ideas about sex, how places like Europe are more "enlightened" in this regard, how it's a private matter and has no bearing on anyone's ability to do a job. But we are talking about the "chief spy" here, about someone who deals with more classified information than anyone else in the nation, who knows things that no one else knows. Literally. Such a person simply cannot place themselves in a position of vulnerability. And that's exactly what Petraeus did. He failed at his job, possibly for the first time in his career.

But even worse than this failure is his intentional use of intelligence techniques and resources to conceal his affair, for not only do these actions raise red flags, but they also involve introducing an outsider directly into Company business. Imagine if similar shenanigans were taking place in the CIA, FBI, NSA or the like at some lower level and Petraeus became aware of such conduct. How hard would he--as the director of the CIA--have pressed to get to the bottom of the matter? Would he have taken the word of the people involved that is was just about an affair? No, of course not. He would have made damn sure that's all it was. And those involved would be lucky if they only lost their jobs and their pensions.

All of this begs the question: what the hell was Petraeus thinking? Or perhaps, what the hell was he thinking with? Because it sure wasn't his brain. And now the political worm has turned, as well: Petraeus is catching heat from those who once offered their unequivocal support, while those who once wanted to see his nuts roasting on an open flame are scrambling to defend him and the timing of the story. So it goes.

Cheers, all.

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