The scandal that has already claimed David Petraeus’s job as CIA director is now engulfing his onetime deputy at Central Command, John Allen, who is now the senior commander in Afghanistan and slated to become the next NATO military commander. Because he exchanged a lot of emails with Jill Kelley, the woman whose complaints about cyber-harassment started the FBI investigation that brought down Petraeus, Allen too is now suspected of some unspecified impropriety. It is hard to say too much based on the skimpy information provided so far, but this is, I fear, another tragedy in the making–on many levels.
First there is the personal angle which must never be forgotten: A lot of individuals–not only David Petraeus but also his onetime mistress, Paula Broadwell, and the Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, not to mention all of their spouses and offspring–are being dragged through the mud, subject to a searing national humiliation that you would not wish on your worst enemy, much less one of the greatest generals in our history. That Allen is being linked in would be particularly unfair if (as he says) he had no improper relationship with Kelley. Even if he did, it is not clear how this affects the public performance of his duties, or why the FBI is rooting around in this whole affair based on nothing more than one woman’s complaints about getting some nasty emails that, as far as we know, contained no actual threats of violence (usually the threshold for law enforcement involvement).
This whole affair does not, of course, concern movie stars or musicians; it involves officials making national security decisions at the highest levels and those decisions are being affected by this sordid drama. Already the administration has lost in David Petraeus a man of wide experience in the Middle East and a keen appreciation of who are our enemies are and how to wage war against them that will be hard to replicate. Certainly the new national security team that is being touted by administration leaks–John Kerry at Defense, Susan Rice at State–could use some leavening by someone with Petraeus’s background and experience.
Now the vague charges being lodged against John Allen are imperiling his standing to provide objective advice to the administration as it decides how quickly to draw down troops in Afghanistan and how many to leave after 2014. Many senior voices in the administration, led by Vice President Biden, will counsel for the smallest commitment possible. It is Allen’s job as the U.S. military commander to provide objective advice and realistic options, including presenting the risks of maintaining too few forces. But his ability to push the best military advice is imperiled by the cloud hanging over his head. His nomination to be supreme allied commander, Europe, is already on hold and could be withdrawn altogether. If that were to happen, he would have to retire in disgrace. He is thus hardly in a good position to push back against senior administration officials dedicated to the illusion that a few thousand troops will be sufficient to safeguard long-term U.S. interests in Afghanistan.
It would be beyond unfortunate–it would in fact be a cosmic tragedy–if one of the victims of this unfolding scandal were thus to be the entire nation of Afghanistan, which is in real danger of being abandoned to the ravages of a civil war that various warlords are already preparing to fight.