What a mess. And just in time for Veterans Day.
One of the nation’s most celebrated and decorated living warriors ended his career by resigning his post on Friday in disgrace after having to admit to an infidelity in his marriage.
Gen. David Petraeus resigned abruptly as head of the CIA last Friday, his glamorous military career imploding in such spectacular public view that pieces of it continue to fall all over Washington, D.C.
The wingnut crowd, still steaming over the stupendous election walloping they received from the “real America” on Nov. 6, want to paint what is happening as some tip of the iceberg scandal involving Libya and the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
I don’t buy that at all. While that horrific incident certainly raises serious security questions, it doesn’t seem to bear any relationship with Petraeus’ personal decision to harm his own 37-year marriage and tarnish his legacy by failing to keep his mini-Petraeus in check. (Christian super-hero Pat Robertson said this about the subject on his super hilarious 700 Club: “He’s just a man.” Classic.)
But don’t let the sex get in the way of the real scandal. Here we have a man who “triumphantly” led two major military campaigns, first in Iraq and then later in Afghanistan (if I wrote his accomplishments in military language it would fill this entire newspaper several times over). He was so decorated, trusted, honored, etc., that he was a shoe in when President Obama named him CIA director last year. Actually, having a military man of Petraeus’ caliber at the agency was seen as a really great sign, particularly since the organization’s focus is so melded these days to anti-terrorism operations.
That said, who among our enemies wouldn’t love to get close to this guy? Russia? China? Terrorists? Foreign intelligence agencies bent on blackmailing secrets out of our leaders would’ve loved to have discovered this first. Maybe they did. It happens. And it’s terrible that the head of an organization as important to national security as the CIA allowed himself to be put into such a position.
I’m not saying any of this was going on — the FBI has made clear there was no national security threat that they can tell — but does that really matter? The guy spends his whole career defending the country and then puts himself in the position of potentially creating a very serious security threat? Wow. That’s the scandal.
One thing the wingnutters have right is that the timing of the FBI’s investigation of Petraeus and the reasons for why Obama (and the public) was kept in the dark is suspicious. I can’t imagine Attorney General Eric Holder conducting an investigation involving the CIA director and NO ONE informs the president. Election or no election, that’s dubious on its face. Maybe Holder should resign as well. It certainly doesn’t help that the FBI agent who brought this sordid tale to light is now also a sideshow to the circus, having been taken off the case for sending pics of himself shirtless to the Tampa socialite (ugh!) who blew the whistle on Paula Broadwell. Broadwell, of course, is the mistress. She’s now a potential criminal suspect, since FBI agents have found a trove of classified documents in her possession that perhaps shouldn’t be there.
Classified documents that shouldn’t be there — that worries me more than her fawning over some man in a uniform, ruining his marriage and his career.
And that, finally, brings me to this point. Petraeus put his country in danger by engaging in this affair. A number of reports have raised questions about the level of access given not just to Broadwell, though she’s actually an Army intelligence agent with a high clearance, but certainly to the socialite who had access to the general and his buddies as well. Jill Kelley, the socialite at the center of the scandal, even had access to MacDill Air Force Base, until recently, and supposedly shared some steamy emails with the current top American general in Afghanistan, who was slated to take over at NATO in just a few months. That’s on hold.
Soap opera enough for you? Generals behaving badly, or massive national security threat that will see people go to prison? Stay tuned.
As if Petraeus’ infidelity and sudden downfall weren’t enough, the military has gotten a big black eye over two other big stories this week that have little to do with the actual execution of their missions overseas.
Gen. William “Kip” Ward was stripped of one of his stars by Leon Panetta, the U.S. defense secretary, this week. The once vaunted head of the Africa Command was demoted over lavish spending of taxpayer money on travel and shopping trips for his wife and his staff members. Expensive hotels, gifts from government contractors — everything except sex with a Harvard graduated marathon runner, as far as we know — Ward will retire in disgrace as well. He was one of an extremely low number of black four-star generals in U.S. military history, and now he’s the only one ever demoted. Thanks Kip, hope your wife enjoyed the shopping.
This next black eye is much sadder. It’s the fate of a soldier who didn’t become an officer. He didn’t get to kiss ass all the way up the chain of command only to blow up his career on shopping trips and secret sex.
This is Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, an 11-year veteran who served four combat tours of duty.
Bales was in a military court martial this week charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians while they slept back in March. He faces the real possibility of the death penalty.
His lawyer wants to save his life by blaming his erratic behavior and subsequent violent outburst on a combination of booze, pills and steroids. Regardless, he killed nine kids that night. Just walked into their village and slaughtered them.
The survivors described their anguish in court via Internet connection and their testimony was as heartbreaking as if Bales had walked into a daycare in Memphis and done it.
Unlike, Petraeus and Ward, whose moral failings will simply cost them a firmer place in history, perhaps relegate them to footnotes, even, Bales’ legacy is much tougher to swallow. A combat veteran, enlisted man, who it’s hard not to think didn’t just go PTSD crazy, snapped like we hear about so many of our veterans. He just did it over there instead of over here. It’s almost too sad to comprehend.
Petraeus and Ward will lose some luster. Bales will probably lose his life. But in all three tales, moral lessons emerge for us all. For me, I couldn’t help thinking about the fall of Rome, the moral decay that combined with the political infighting and military failures to bring down a 500-year-old empire the accomplishments of which are still admired the world over.