Unexamined Premises

David and Bathsheba

Ever since the September 11 attack on our consulate and CIA station in Benghazi, “the dog in the night-time” of the scandal the media did its best to bury during the election campaign has been David Petraeus, the Iraq War commander turned spook-in-almost-chief. Throughout the orgy of misinformation, disinformation, finger-pointing, blame-shifting and general confusion, Petraeus remained adamantly silent, a hostage to fortune somewhere within the bowels of the CIA building in Langley. The one man who could have cut through the administration’s fog machine said nothing substantive as ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were laid to rest.

And now, just a couple of days after the election that returned Barack Hussein Obama II to executive power in Washington, he’s gone — resigned in the wake of an affair that likely occurred more than a year ago, apparently with his biographer, Paula Broadwell — who herself is under FBI investigation, reportedly for trying to access the general’s classified emails. Further, Petraeus will now not testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about Benghazi next week.

And that, if Congress acquiesces and does not immediately subpoena Petraeus and either compel him to testify or force the administration to again assert executive privilege (as it did with Attorney General Eric Holder in the Fast and Furious mess), will be that — we’ll never know, and Obama will do his best to completely bury, what happened in Benghazi.

More details no doubt will dribble out over the coming days and weeks, but here’s what we can reasonably surmise. Although the official story is that the affair was uncovered by the FBI’s investigation into the emails, nevertheless it appears from the wording of Petraeus’s resignation letter that the affair began some time after July 2011; he became CIA director fourteen months ago. Therefore — unless he concealed that information from his vetters, which is highly unlikely given everything we know about the man — the Obama administration had to have known about the relationship from the start. Which means that, in effect, Petraeus confessed to his own “honey trap” and handed Valerie Jarrett, the Javert of Obama’s White House, a termination card, effective whenever she and the president cared to play it. And play it they did, right after the election and just before his testimony on the Hill. Well played, indeed.

On the other hand, if the affair began before Petraeus was being considered for the CIA post, and he didn’t reveal it, his reputation will never recover. As Ronald Kessler notes:

The investigation began last spring, but the FBI then pored over his emails when he was stationed in Afghanistan.

The woman who was having an affair with Petraeus is a journalist who had been writing about him.

Given his top secret clearance and the fact that Petraeus is married, the FBI continued to investigate and intercept Petraeus’ email exchanges with the woman. The emails include sexually explicit references to such items as sex under a desk.

Such a relationship is a breach of top secret security requirements and could have compromised Petraeus.

At some point after Petraeus was sworn in as CIA director on Sept. 6, 2011, the woman broke up with him. However, Petraeus continued to pursue her, sending her thousands of emails over the last several months, raising even more questions about his judgment.

So, one way or the other, we can begin to understand the silence emanating from the Langley Home for Lost Boys over the past several months. Right from the start, the Agency was fingered by the White House and by Hillary Clinton’s State Department as the fall guy for the Benghazi fiasco, especially once they understood that their “hateful video” legend wasn’t going to fly, and once leakers within the Agency began slipping the embarrassing details of what happened that night to their favorite journalist mouthpieces.

With the congressional hearings looming, it was clear that the administration could no longer tolerate a CIA that it could not fully control, and that therefore an example had to be made of a good, patriotic American war hero, who had succumbed to the most basic of human weaknesses. It doesn’t take a thriller novelist’s imagination to picture the scene: Petraeus calling to the White House and being told, probably by Jarrett, to tender his resignation forthwith and both to reveal the affair and cite it as the reason for his sudden disgrace. No fingerprints on the bloody knife except those of the victim, with the added bonus of ensuring his silence regarding Benghazi, especially with the Senate under even firmer control that it was last week, when the GOP was still indulging in its pipe dream of retaking it.

Well, as they say, elections have consequences, and this one’s a doozy. Petraeus has a lot of detractors on the Right, many of whom saw him as overly Muslim-friendly during his time in Iraq and Afghanistan. (For examples, just check the comments on this piece.) But, until he threw himself under the bus, no one doubted the man’s sense of duty, honor and country; indeed, it’s just that sense that likely caused him to resign in the first place; Max Boot has a nice appreciation of the general’s accomplishments here:

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.

The problem is, fighting generals (as opposed to the desk jockeys that grunts call REMFs) are not generally wise in the ways of politics — Ike was an exception; Patton was not) — and can find themselves played if they’re not suspicious of civilian authority, instead of (as they must be as officers) deferential to it. And Obama’s nomination of Petraeus to be CIA director always struck me as addition by subtraction: he took a possible GOP opponent and effective critic off the table and buried him across the river in suburban Virginia. A real spook — say, Allen Dulles, Dick Helms, or James Jesus Angleton — always has his antennae up and operational, and understands that his real enemy is most likely masquerading as his best friend.

So the career of King David (as he was known to his aides in Iraq) is over. The Republicans, however, must not let this old soldier just fade away. He needs to be called before the Intelligence Committee and to testify about the truth of what happened in Benghazi, including the real reason that ambassador Stevens was there — which, if the rumors of a gun-running operation to Syria are true (shades of both Fast and Furious and Iran-Contra), could be highly deleterious to the administration, and which might have had an effect on the election had they been publicly known.

Petraeus should welcome the opportunity, and in fact insist on it. It would be his final act of patriotism — and should he be prevented by the administration and its Democratic allies in Congress from testifying, then his forced silence will speak almost as loudly and even more eloquently.

Also read: Feinstein Questions Obama’s Acceptance of Petraeus Resignation