The David Petraeus clown car extravaganza that’s entertaining the country these days serves the useful purpose of distracting people from taking a hard look at the nature of the national security state we’ve become. Comically hoist by his own petard, former General Petraeus is arguably just another of our war criminals who will never be held to account.
Some say the FBI never should have been looking at his email in the first place. Glenn Greenwald articulated this argument clearly as clearly as anyone on DemocracyNOW, where he complained that:
…the FBI, based on really no evidence of any actual crime, engaged in this massive surveillance effort of, first, obtaining all kinds of intimate and private information about two women, one of whom complained, one of whom was the target of the complaint, Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley; learned the locations and email accounts of Paula Broadwell, who was the subject of this fairly innocuous complaint; read through all of her emails; learned the identity of her anonymous lover, David Petraeus; likely read—certainly read through all of her emails, probably read through his; and then, in the process, as well, learned about an affair between the complainant, Jill Kelley—or not an affair, but inappropriate communications, as they’re calling it, and the four-star general in Afghanistan, General Allen; and then obtained 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails between them, as well.
This mangles the seminal moment in this sequence of event, which was when Jill Kelley complained to her FBI friend. At that moment, apparently, all that was known was that there were harassing, anonymous emails to Kelley, referencing the Director of the CIA, whom she knew, and referencing information about the CIA director that was supposedly confidential. At that seminal moment, the sketchy evidence was that someone had breached CIA security, and maybe it was trivial or even a false impression, but no professional FBI agent could responsibly let that go.
When the CIA Director Seems Compromised…
As we know now, the FBI agent didn’t responsibly follow it up, either, and all sorts of other people behaved ridiculously as well, but the core possibility of a threat to the CIA had to be pursued, and it was. What apparently distracted Greenwald from this clear and compelling genesis of the investigation is his over-riding concern with the abuses of the American surveillance state. But that is a different issue, as well as a more important one.
Another blurring factor in the unfolding farce is the lingering image of Saint Petraeus that Paula Broadwell among others buffed so well:
When I realized the opportunity I had to tell this message, to present this portrait of strategic leadership—you know, it’s not—it’s not a hagiography; I’m not in love with David Petraeus. But I think he does present a terrific role model for young people, for executives, for men and women. No matter what, there’s a great role model there who is—who is values-oriented, who speaks the truth to power.
Too many people have given Petraeus credit for resigning, calling it an act of honor. How is it honorable? He didn’t resign the day after he started the affair. He didn’t resign on any of the days during the affair. He didn’t resign after the FBI questioned him about the affair. He didn’t resign until he had a gun to his head in effect – when his boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told him the game was over.
Then he resigned with a wan gesture that looks less like honor than a vain last attempt at damage control. Clapper was part of that deceptive effort, as was President Obama at his news conference November 14. Here’s how Clapper’s formal statement tried to perpetuate the “cult of David Petraeus” when it said:
Dave’s decision to step down represents the loss of one of our nation’s most respected public servants. From his long, illustrious Army career to his leadership at the helm of CIA, Dave has redefined what it means to serve and sacrifice for one’s country…. I can honestly say that Dave Petraeus stands out as one of our nation’s great patriots.
Best of Petraeus Record – His Press Clippings
defending David Petraeus without actually addressing the real problems with David Petraeus’s record. And those are the fact that he manipulated the White House into escalating in Afghanistan; he ran a campaign in Iraq that was brutally savage, included arming the worst of the worst, Shiite death squads, Sunni militiamen; and then you go back to the training of the Iraqi army program that also had similar problems. So, for me, all the while, he’s going around the country talking about honor and integrity.
Keeping the faith, by contrast, Cliff Kincaid of GOPUSA argues that Petraeus is being martyred by the Obama Administration in some mysterious fashion that includes blaming Rep. Eric Cantor for doing nothing with his tip from the originating FBI agent other than pass it on to the FBI head office:
… a national security scandal that could have stopped President Obama’s re-election campaign dead in its tracks. But the potentially devastating “October Surprise” was hushed up by Republicans. Although all the details are not yet available and new disclosures are coming every day, it appears that the scandal involves the CIA director leaking classified information to his mistress and the FBI not holding David Petraeus accountable for his immoral and illegal conduct. In short, it is the worst scandal of the Obama Administration and makes the third-rate burglary in the Watergate scandal look minor by comparison.
How Badly Could Obama Feel About This Loss?
It’s hard to see how President Obama could regret having a charismatic, ambitious, self-serving, independent rival like Petraeus taken off the board before his second term begins. But to conjure up a conspiracy theory in which the President plotted and schemed to oust his CIA chief would seem to require a belief that Obama is somehow a secret liberal, or something better.
The evidence seems clear that President Obama is devoted to the CIA’s assassination-by-drone program and was very much in favor of Petraeus’ plan for “the conversion of the CIA into even more of a paramilitary organization than it has ever been before,” as Greenwald asserted.
This seems wholly consistent with the Petraeus record, of which some of the highlights have been:
- promoting fictitious WMDs as part of the Bush administration’s effort to lie the country into war in Iraq;
- promoting warmed-over winning-hearts-and-minds counter-insurgency theory from Viet-Nam, for application to Iraq and Afghanistan, where it was just as effective;
- promoting ethnic cleansing in Iraq;
- using depleted uranium weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan;
- supporting the Patriot Act and other attacks on civil liberties;
- tolerating torture and other human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan;
- wounding and killing thousands of non-combatants in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Honor and War Crimes
David Petraeus has made major contributions to some of the most disastrous policies of the our recent past, and some of those contributions are war crimes. Or they would be war crimes if they were adjudicated, and they won’t be. As a country, we have long since stopped holding our leaders accountable for doing what we condemn sometimes when others do it.
Participating in illegal wars is criminal. The honorable soldier refuses to carry out an illegal war. Petraeus refused nothing on principle.
As Dave Lindorff reminds us, we have had honorable military officers in the recent past, such as Admiral William Fallon. In 2007, when he was head of Centcom, in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East, he told the Bush administration there would be no attack on Iran “on his watch.” At the time, Fallon also reportedly called Petraeus “an ass-licking little chickenshit” to his face.
It could be argued that Petraeus’ actions have not been war crimes so much as monstrous incompetence. That would go a long way toward explaining why our spy chief couldn’t keep his email secret. Either way, we’ll be paying his pension for a long time. Feel better now?