There’s a delicious irony to the story of the crash-and-burn career of four-star general and former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus.
The man who was elevated to the ethereal ranks of a General Eisenhower or Robert E. Lee by swooning corporate myth makers like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Trudy Rubin, the Washington Post’s David Iglesias, and the New York Times’ Michael Gordon, was never really that brilliant. It wasn’t his “surge” after all that quieted things down (temporarily) in Iraq; rather it was a deal to pay off the insurgents with cash to stand down until the United States could gracefully pull out, sparing the departing troops from having to shoot their way down to Kuwait in full retreat. As for his allegedly brilliant counterinsurgency policy of “winning hearts and minds,” we’ve already seen how well that has worked in Iraq, which is now basically a client state of Iran, and the writing is already on the wall in Afghanistan, where the United States is almost universally loathed and U.S. forces spend most of their time looking out for Afghan soldiers who might turn their guns on their supposed allies and “mentors.”
For a real measure of Petraeus, consider the assessment of Admiral William Fallon—that rare military leader who in 2007 had the guts to tell President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney he would not allow an attack on Iran on his watch. Fallon, who at the time was head of Centcom, the military command region covering the entire Middle East, reportedly once called Petraeus, who was being put in charge of the Iraq theater, an “ass-kissing little chickenshit”—to his face.
Anyhow, what makes the epic collapse of this consummate political general’s career so exquisite is that it was the post-9/11 spying capabilities of the FBI that allowed its agents to slip unannounced into the email of the general’s paramour, Paula Broadwell (a name that could have been selected by Ian Fleming), and possibly into the general’s own email too, uncovering the evidence, allegedly in the form of X-rated letters, of a covert adulterous relationship underway.
We now know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was alerted to this breach of decorum and lack of judgment on the part of the head of the nation’s spooks by a second woman, Jill Kelley, who was a volunteer military liaison and family friend of the Petraeus clan. (If the illicit romance began while Petraeus was on active duty in Afghanistan, he could be prosecuted under the same rules that have led to the prosecution of many lower-ranking officers: bringing ill-repute upon the military.) Kelley’s closeness to Petraeus allegedly caused the jealous Broadwell to send threatening or harassing emails to her imagined rival, reportedly including one that warned she could make Kelley “disappear.”
It seems likely that Kelley, in asking the FBI to put a halt to the threatening emails, would have been quick to point out that Broadwell was having an affair with Petraeus. In any event, once the FBI successfully got Broadwell’s telecom company to allow them to access her email, that would have been clear, and it would have been easy work to move on to the general’s own cache of love letters. The CIA chief was thus done in by the Patriot Act and other assorted violations of the First and Fourth Amendments, all backed by Petraeus and his political promoters in Congress and the White House, as well as in the corporate media.
Meanwhile, as entertaining as this salacious scandal may be, and as satisfying as it is to see the great and powerful brought down by the very national security state they promoted and helped create, there remains the terrible truth that even as the corporate media get all worked up about the “moral decay” evidenced among the nation’s top military brass, no mention is made of the much greater moral rot that the whole military represents, with its ongoing imperial slaughter in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere.
Even when it comes to sex, the much bigger issue for the military is the epidemic of rape that has female military personnel afraid to exit their barracks to use the latrine at night except in groups for fear of being raped by their fellow male troops, and also being at the mercy of officers who assault them, usually without any fear of prosecution.
Even so, while we may enjoy Petraeus’ Patriot Act payback, and speculate on how it must be giving the shivers to many a philandering White House staffer, member of Congress, or even a Supreme Court justice, it should also be a warning to us all that the FBI, the CIA, and the myriad other intelligence agencies littering the U.S. landscape these days have virtually limitless ability to monitor our every email message, tweet, and phone call.
Maybe we should invite the now humbled Petraeus to become the poster child for a renewed battle to restore the Bill of Rights.
Dave Lindorff is an American investigative reporter, a columnist for CounterPunch, and a contributor to Businessweek, the Nation, Extra!, and Salon. In 2004 he started the independent political blog ThisCantBeHappening.net (now a news collective), which won two Project Censored awards in 2004 and 2011.