Although it’s a most embarrassing confession to make, we must admit that we were initially just a bit pleased to learn that Gen. David Petraeus had resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency because of an extramarital affair. Not because we wished to see the previously impeccable reputation of someone who has done great service for his country destroyed, and certainly not because we relished the grief that the revelation has no doubt caused his wife of many years and the rest of their family, but only because we hoped that the addition of a titillating subplot would bring much-needed public attention to an outrageous White House scandal that the national media had been determined to ignore in the last weeks of the presidential election.
Now, however, the titillating subplot threatens to overshadow the bigger, more important story.
The press has been investigating the Petraeus affair with the same gleeful fervor it always brings to the task of piling on fallen heroes, or at least those fallen heroes suspected of certain political party affiliations, and they’ve already uncovered a slew of salacious details. There’s not just a revered married military man having illicit sex with a comely young woman, and under a desk
in a war zone, no less, but also the soap operatic spectacle of an accomplished professional woman hacking into her lover’s supposedly highly secured e-mail account to send threatening letters
to yet another woman, this woman even younger and comelier, and to add a twist of the sort usually only found in movies by the Coen brothers, there’s an FBI agent investigating it all who develops his own crazed crush on the other other woman and sends her a series of salacious e-communications that include shirtless pictures
of himself. We have no idea what story lines are being played out on the reality shows these days, but for pure salacious tawdriness they surely can’t match the Petraeus saga.
There’s more than just a prurient interest here, of course, even if that does seem to be driving the news coverage. All of the reporters can reassure themselves that they’re exposing an appalling lapse of judgment by a man at the very top of the intelligence community, raising legitimate questions about the competence of the investigative agencies that are supposed to be safeguarding against shenanigans, and although it will go largely unmarked the journalistic and publishing establishments that once lauded a woman with such unethical research techniques and poor mental health as Petraeus’ lover has also been called into question. The public has a right to know about all of it, and a certain degree of public scrutiny and opprobrium is appropriate.
Let us hope, though, that these enticing details don’t obscure the more sobering fact of four Americans dying in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. They were sent by their government into a land that had been bombed by American air power into a state of near-anarchy, denied sufficient security after repeated pleas, denied help even as government officials watched their futile struggle for survival on live video, and then the reason for their deaths was lied about for days by numerous government, with the lie making a scapegoat of an obscure filmmaker who had exercised his constitutional right to make a low-budget video. New reports raise fresh suspicions about possible “enhanced interrogations
” that the government was conducting in Libya in violation of an executive order that the president has long preened, and there’s still more investigating to be done.
Much of the country would be quite relieved if the buck were to stop with Petraeus. When the general was bringing enough to stability to Iraq to allow for a peaceful and honorable withdrawal of American troops he was pilloried by the left, with the MoveOn.org group calling him “General Betray-Us,” the New York Times giving them a discounted ad rate
to do it, and the woman who is now the Secretary-of-State-in-hiding
saying that his claims of success required a “suspension of disbelief.” The heroic stature that Petraeus gained when his claims were proved true only further enflamed the left’s resentment, and although the criticism somehow disappeared once he was brought onto the Obama administration it was inevitable they would turn on him again once his usefulness had ended.
The ultimate responsibility for the fiasco, however, lies with the man who appointed Petraeus. Whatever his faults, and there are apparently more of them than had previously been supposed, Petraeus was not the man who failed to provide the necessary security, he was not the man who repeatedly lied about the incident, and he was not the one man who punished an American citizen for criticizing Islam. The man responsible for these outrages was recently re-elected as the President of the United States, and although his role in this mess isn’t very sexy it deserves the greatest degree of scrutiny nonetheless.
— Bud Norman