Commentary Magazine


Topic: Petraeus resignation

Petraeus Deserves Thanks, Not Obloquy

I am saddened to read about David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA Director, citing an extramarital affair. I know nothing about the circumstances and suspect we will learn more before long. What I do know is that the hyenas are now circling his political carcass, ready to rip him to shreds, now that he is already wounded. What I also know is that this is a depressing fate to befall one of America’s greatest generals—probably the greatest we have had since the World War II generation passed from the scene.

Imagine Winfield Scott, U.S. Grant, William Sherman, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower or Matthew Ridgway resigning over an affair. It’s simply impossible to imagine; standards have changed so much over the years that now sexual peccadilloes are about the only thing that can bring down senior military commanders. Petraeus did not have as big a war to fight as his predecessors did but what he achieved in Iraq was one of the most impressive turnarounds ever seen in any counterinsurgency campaign that I am familiar with.

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I am saddened to read about David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA Director, citing an extramarital affair. I know nothing about the circumstances and suspect we will learn more before long. What I do know is that the hyenas are now circling his political carcass, ready to rip him to shreds, now that he is already wounded. What I also know is that this is a depressing fate to befall one of America’s greatest generals—probably the greatest we have had since the World War II generation passed from the scene.

Imagine Winfield Scott, U.S. Grant, William Sherman, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower or Matthew Ridgway resigning over an affair. It’s simply impossible to imagine; standards have changed so much over the years that now sexual peccadilloes are about the only thing that can bring down senior military commanders. Petraeus did not have as big a war to fight as his predecessors did but what he achieved in Iraq was one of the most impressive turnarounds ever seen in any counterinsurgency campaign that I am familiar with.

Field Marshal Gerald Templer’s success in Malaya in the 1950s is usually cited as the gold standard of counterinsurgency. Well Iraq in early 2007, when Petraeus took over as commander, was in far worse shape than Malaya in 1952 when Templer arrived on the scene. Few thought there was any chance of stopping Iraq’s slide into ever-more violent civil war. Certainly not with a mere 20,000 or so surge troops–numbers widely dismissed as inadequate for the size of the task. Petraeus did not bluster and he did not boast, but he arrived with a quiet confidence that he could still save the day–and he did.

He did not do it alone, needless to say. The contributions of Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the day to day operational commander, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were particularly important–not to mention the firm backing of President George W. Bush. But the odds are that the surge would have failed were it not for the inspired leadership displayed by Petraeus.

He had already studied the principles of population-centric counterinsurgency; he had quite literally written the book on the subject. And he proceeded to implement everything he had learned not only from his study of history but from the more than two years he had previously spent in Iraq, first as commander of the 101st Airborne Division and then as the top general charged with training Iraqi forces. He faced not only multiple foes on the ground–most prominently Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdist Army–but also constant sniping from the home front where some derided him as “General Betray Us.” Throughout the ordeal of 2007-2008 he stood firm, constantly pushing his subordinates to do better, while defending their conduct in a stream of media interviews and in pivotal congressional testimony that prevented anti-war legislators from pulling the plug prematurely on the entire effort.

I was privileged to see some glimpses of Petraeus in action, not only in Iraq but also later in Afghanistan; I served as an informal adviser to him in both places. Never have I seen more effective leadership in action. He was a maestro at using all the instruments of governmental power, combing multiple “lines of operation” to wage a war far more diffuse and harder to grasp than a conventional campaign. In Afghanistan he did not preside over the kind of quick turnaround he managed to pull off in Iraq but he once again, building on the fine work done by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, helped to implement a strategy that substantially improved the situation.

Petraeus spent most of the past decade deployed—first in Bosnia, then in Iraq, finally in Afghanistan. In between the last two commands he served as Central Command chief, constantly jetting around the Middle East to carry on high-level negotiations. He maintained a grueling pace that would have been hard to do for men half his age, yet he never seemed to flag, not even when he was treated for cancer.

Petraeus devoted his life to serving his country. Few have ever done it as well. He now deserves the thanks of a grateful nation—rather than obloquy that is more likely to be visited on him instead.

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Will it Take an Affair to Get the Media Interested in Benghazi?

For a military hero and able public servant such as David Petraeus to have to end his service to the country on the sort of disturbing note that his letter of resignation sounded is nothing short of a tragedy. For anyone in charge of U.S. intelligence to behave as he said did shows poor judgment that rightly required the president to accept his resignation. But that ought not to detract from a career that deserves to be remembered with honor by a grateful country.

But the avalanche of press coverage that Petraeus attracted in the hours after his announcement ought to bring into focus a far more important story that most of the same media has ignored: the Benghazi fiasco. It speaks volumes about the current state of contemporary American journalism that  a sex scandal generated far more interest from broadcast networks and the press than the questions of whether the administration failed to aid Americans besieged in Libya or why the government stuck to a bogus story about a video instead of admitting that terrorists were responsible.

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For a military hero and able public servant such as David Petraeus to have to end his service to the country on the sort of disturbing note that his letter of resignation sounded is nothing short of a tragedy. For anyone in charge of U.S. intelligence to behave as he said did shows poor judgment that rightly required the president to accept his resignation. But that ought not to detract from a career that deserves to be remembered with honor by a grateful country.

But the avalanche of press coverage that Petraeus attracted in the hours after his announcement ought to bring into focus a far more important story that most of the same media has ignored: the Benghazi fiasco. It speaks volumes about the current state of contemporary American journalism that  a sex scandal generated far more interest from broadcast networks and the press than the questions of whether the administration failed to aid Americans besieged in Libya or why the government stuck to a bogus story about a video instead of admitting that terrorists were responsible.

The juxtaposition of Petraeus’s fall with the ongoing investigation of who knew what and when about what happened in Benghazi is bound to attract more interest than the scandal has generated in the past two months. The refusal of many in the media to push hard on this story has understandably generated accusations of liberal media bias, since the relative silence on the issue from many important outlets was extremely helpful to President Obama’s re-election campaign.

But now that the president’s cheerleaders in the press box no longer need to worry about endangering his chances of a second term, there are signs that the contradictions about the administration’s Benghazi story are beginning to elicit some attention from news organizations. One imagines that the Petraeus angle and a resignation letter that seems to have raised more questions than it answered will only feed their curiosity.

While there is little doubt that Petraeus’s affair will be the most famous Washington indiscretion since l’affaire Lewinsky, perhaps some of that 24/7 news cycle attention will also be devoted to what the intelligence apparatus was doing in the last months. That is especially true since senior administration figures have thrown the intelligence community under the bus in their effort to divert attention from their own shortcomings. At any rate, let us hope that the hype about Petraeus’ personal life won’t divert anyone from a more important story with far reaching implications for American security.

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Who Had the Dirt on Petraeus?

In a Friday afternoon bombshell, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned, citing an extramarital affair. Petraeus has been under fire recently for the CIA’s response to the Benghazi attack. The Cable’s Josh Rogin posted the letter of resignation:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA.  After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.

Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,

David H. Petraeus

This is completely out of nowhere. Just last week, the New York Times published a fawning profile of Petraeus (which the administration cooperated with), clearly an attempt to boost his image as the Benghazi criticism heated up. Here is the final paragraph:

Mr. Petraeus’s future has inevitably been the subject of rumors: that he would be Mitt Romney’s running mate, or, more plausibly, that he was interested in the presidency of Princeton. In a statement in late September, he did not rule that out for the future, but said that for the time being he was “living the dream here at C.I.A.” That was before the recriminations this week over Benghazi.

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In a Friday afternoon bombshell, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned, citing an extramarital affair. Petraeus has been under fire recently for the CIA’s response to the Benghazi attack. The Cable’s Josh Rogin posted the letter of resignation:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA.  After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.

Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,

David H. Petraeus

This is completely out of nowhere. Just last week, the New York Times published a fawning profile of Petraeus (which the administration cooperated with), clearly an attempt to boost his image as the Benghazi criticism heated up. Here is the final paragraph:

Mr. Petraeus’s future has inevitably been the subject of rumors: that he would be Mitt Romney’s running mate, or, more plausibly, that he was interested in the presidency of Princeton. In a statement in late September, he did not rule that out for the future, but said that for the time being he was “living the dream here at C.I.A.” That was before the recriminations this week over Benghazi.

The recriminations over Benghazi notably include charges that Petraeus misled lawmakers during a closed congressional hearing in September. Petraeus was scheduled to testify at another closed hearing before the House Intelligence Committee next week. He sure isn’t scheduled anymore. Did the timing of his resignation have anything to do with that?

One last question. Typically when an official resigns because of an affair, it’s because the information has already been made public or is about to be made public. So who had the dirt on Petraeus?

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