Consequences of the Petraeus Scandal

The unfolding scandal surrounding former CIA Director David Petraeus has many layers, far more than we can see today. But even at this early hour, some things are clear. For ease of discussion, let’s put these things—“known knowns” as Don Rumsfeld would call them—under four broad headings: the human, the military, the political and the geopolitical dimensions of the Petraeus scandal.


A month ago, putting those last two words—“Petraeus” and “scandal”—next to each other or even in the same sentence or article would have been unthinkable. Such was his stature and public image. But this sad story is yet another reminder that all of us have feet of clay; all of us are capable of doing great and inspiring things as well as dumb and ugly things. Our reputations are only as good as the depth of our next mistake. And as Petraeus now knows, the bigger the reputation, the bigger the fall.

To be sure, a key contributing factor in Petraeus’s outsized reputation was his impressive record, which we will discuss in a moment. But another contributing factor was the notoriety and even celebrity that blossomed around him, which he appears to have cultivated in some ways. (Just consider the book written by Ms. Broadwell.) This “celebrification” of military and political leaders is not new, but it is reaching epidemic levels. And it’s unhealthy for the republic, especially in relation to military leaders.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As Derek Leebaert reminds us in his essential history of the Cold War, The Fifty Year Wound, after Gen. George Marshall ended his career of military and public service, he “joined no corporate board…gave no paid speeches” and refused a million-dollar book deal, “at least the equivalent of a $7-million book deal today.” Marshall’s answer to the offer: “The people of the United States have paid me for my services.”

Douglas MacArthur, who was indeed a celebrity general, counseled that America’s military should stand “serene, calm, aloof,” always guided by “those magic words: duty, honor, country.”

Fueled by that very-human flaw known as pride, celebrity poisons that formula of effective command, as MacArthur and Petraeus learned in different ways.


By resigning and taking responsibility for his lapse in judgment, Petraeus did the right thing. But by doing the wrong thing, he jeopardized his reputation and capsized his career—a career that was far from over.

Petraeus came into the public’s field of vision at a time when nothing was going right in Iraq—and virtually no one thought the Iraq project could be salvaged. But that’s exactly what Petraeus did. After rewriting the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency manual, he put it to the test in Baghdad, Fallujah and Ramadi; altered the course of the war; saved Iraq from itself; and rescued America from defeat. President Obama then asked Petraeus to make lightning strike twice by repeating in Afghanistan what he accomplished in Iraq. And then, the president tapped Petraeus to work his counter-insurgency and counter-terror magic at the CIA.

Petraeus was remarkably suited for the post-9/11 campaign of campaigns, able to fuse together intelligence, diplomacy, counterinsurgency and kinetic operations to wage a fusion war. Before Petraeus took his CIA post, a veterans group was even pushing the President to award Petraeus a fifth star for his exceptional command and leadership during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At barely 60 years old, Petraeus had fought and vanquished America’s enemies on several fronts. No one will ever know what this outstanding general officer might have done had his career not been cut short by his misconduct.

This isn’t to say that people don’t deserve second chances, but after falling from such a high perch, it seems unlikely that Petraeus will ask for a second chance to lead in a public way.


That brings us to some of the political dimensions of this scandal. A Petraeus run for the presidency or pick as vice president seems remote now, as does a role for Petraeus as defense secretary or Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. Fair or not, his indiscretion, in effect, disqualifies him from consideration for these roles because it could have compromised issues related to intelligence, national security, etc.

This invites comparison to the Clinton scandal, of course. Perhaps the most that can be said in this regard is that after he recognized his failing, Petraeus had a sense of honor and resigned for the good of his family and country.

The other political dimension at play here is far more important to the nation. After all, this is a scandal within a scandal. It pays to recall that Petraeus knew a great deal about the Benghazi scandal. Petraeus made it clear that his agency did not cover its ears when Americans under fire called out for help. “No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate,” a CIA official declared as the White House began to search for a scapegoat. Doubtless, that statement was released with Petraeus’s assent.

ABC News reports that “Petraeus traveled to Libya to conduct his own review of the Benghazi attack…While in Tripoli, he personally questioned the CIA station chief and other CIA personnel who were in Benghazi on Sept. 11.” This was just weeks before the sex-scandal story broke—conveniently two days after the presidential election.

Some, like Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (USA RET), think Petraeus knew so much that the scandal was used to keep him quiet. “The timing is just too perfect for the Obama administration,” Peters recently said in an interview. “Just as the administration claimed it was purely coincidence that our Benghazi consulate was attacked on the anniversary of September 11th. Now it’s purely coincidence that this affair—extra-marital affair—surfaces right after the election, not before, but right after, but before the intelligence chiefs go to Capitol Hill to get grilled. As an old intelligence analyst…the way I read this—I could be totally wrong, this is my interpretation—is that the administration was unhappy with Petraeus not playing ball 100 percent on their party-line story…I don’t like conspiracy theories, I may be totally wrong, but the timing of this, again, right after the election and right before Petraeus is supposed to get grilled on Capitol Hill, it really smells.”

In fact, ABC reports that “Petraeus is telling friends he does not think he should testify.”


Finally, there is the geopolitical dimension. Considered alongside the Secret Service sex scandals and a number of general officers being relieved of command for various indiscretions, the unfolding and widening Petraeus scandal conveys a lack of seriousness, lack of judgment, lack of restraint and lack of propriety among people in key leadership positions—people who should possess all of these traits. It sends a terrible message to the world. Friends will wonder about decision making and stability in Washington, and foes could try to exploit the distractions, disorder and discontinuity.

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  • Mary Sue

    I bet they've got a carrot now that they've pulled out their stick on Petraeus. A chance to salvage a career of some kind while keeping his lips shut, perhaps?

    Meanwhile Obama goes unpunished…unless Gramnesty can pull a rabbit out of his hat.



    • NorthwoodsCynic

      Obama killed 4 people? Total nonsense! How many people were killed by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld crowd?

      • Flash287

        Bush in Iraq was heroic. Congress approved of the invasion. Not because of WMD, But to stop Iraq’s military expansion into Kuwait with sights then set further for Saudi Arabia. If he would not not have stopped Saddam, we would be be at the his mercy for our mid east oil. Strangling what was left of the US economy.

        • Jim_C

          So invading Iraq was, in your eyes, an appropriate response to 9/11?

          Worth its cost in blood and treasure? For–according to you–access to Iraqi oil fields?

          • fiddler

            Pop question:

            "How many Americans were drafted for those two wars?"

          • Mary Sue

            I dunno, I haven't seen the price of oil going down just because of Iraq's oil these days.

      • tagalog

        Dylan Thomas: "After the first death, there is no other."

        An alternative to Stalin's famous quote: "One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths is a statistic."

        Handy when comparing free thought to collectivist thought.

      • Mary Sue

        Obama killed 4 people by OMISSION, not commission. Don't you know the difference?

  • David R

    The USA is under God's judgement…a Godless president who prones immoral lifestyles and the murder of babies by the millions a year, and who betrays Israel, opens the floodgates of God's wrath on the whole nation.
    Catastrophies and scandals are only the beginning…the worst is yet to come.

    • fiddler

      I shuddered when when I saw the replay of the "vote" about God and Jerusalem during the DNC convention! When they did it three times, it seemed earily prophetic.

    • Shalrath

      How about we put God on judgement for destroying this great country?

    • Dawn

      Chaos is coming. Things are going to get rough in the USA. Not sure what form it will take but God is calling us back to Him. Obama is His Judgment on us for killing our young, accepting homosexuality as a alternate lifestyle and taking God out of our schools, our public buildings, our "village greens" and out of our government.

  • pierce

    Don't be at all surprised if Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayote, and John McCain are able to really back this President into a corner. He is already squirming, as witness his first REAL FIT OF ANGER. Lindsey, you have already got many people backing you, the ball is rolling, not up hill, down hill, and gaining momentum.

    • Jim_C

      I will be very surprised, pierce, but it will be interesting. I think these two non-scandals (both Petraeus and Benghazi) are going to prompt a huge reckoning in the Republican party and in the conservative movement.

      To overstate it a bit, it will be: are we an insurrectionist movement who will fight this president at all costs, or do we support the Constitution of the United States and its duly-elected leader?

      • Jim_C

        Because quite frankly, if it doesn't prompt this reckoning, it will mean the Republican party is irrelevant–a loose collection of cranks and complainers with nothing positive or constructive to offer.

        But I think it will, because I think there's some juice left in both traditional republicanism and principled conservativism. And those will actually be the forces arguing against the current line of attack on the President.

        • fiddler

          What about the DEBT Jim? What about the DEBT. All the spin from the Left cannot blot it out.

          Obama has higher unemployment 3.9 years after he started. Who else had been able to circumvent such a failed recored just on its merit? Bill Clinton despite his scandals STILL had a good economy (thanks in part to the Republican majority).

      • Mary Sue

        how is letting 4 people die and then covering it up a non-scandal?

  • Jim_C

    Does the Petraeus kerfuffle really have "far more layers than we see today?" It is possible.

    Or could it possibly be that What You See is What You Get? Also possible.

    I am open to the first idea. Are you open to the second?

    Let's face it: CIA director and American hero, Gen. Petraeus got his ascot in his dickie, as it were. So it is inevitably news. It's a story. It's not a story I'm especially interested in, unless there were some breach of security, of which I'm doubtful. But you must admit its a headline grabber.

    Do I care? Hell, no! I wish the guy didn't have to resign; I think he's proven himself a valiant soldier and formidable scholar, who succumbed to human vanity to which we are all subject. If the guy ran for president you'd see historic landslide that eclipses the other four in the last 100 years: FDR, Eisenhower, Reagan, and (now) Obama. It's a shame.


      You're forgetting the three more important aspects of the Benghasi scandal:
      1. Requested security was not provided – why? This part doesn't concern Petraeus; the scandal is confined to the State Dept.
      2. It now appears almost certain Obama deliberately chose not to send military assistance to our forces that night. Why? And we need confirmation that no order was received – Petraeus certainly knows something about this, at least to the extent that it wasn't the CIA who prevented help from being sent.
      3. Somebody chose to lie to the American people about the nature of the attack on the Consulate. Unhappily, it seems that Petraeus was involved in the cover up. We need to know, one way or the other, and that means he's got to be grilled.

      • Jim_C

        Petraeus will be grilled. I just don't expect him to provide any info re: a coverup of Benghazi. I would expect that if he knew something was untoward, he would reveal it for the right reasons.

        And I'm not sure who could be expected to provide such info, if in fact such info EVEN EXISTS. It does not "appear almost certain that Obama deliberately chose not to send military assistance." That is speculative. The notion that a "lie" was perpetrated to the American people is not anywhere near a given, and confined to an accusation only by the president's opponents. Conflicting/incomplete intel about the attacks may be the cause. We do know people in that crowd cited the film as the reason they were attacking. Though it would also seem obvious–once the picture became more clear–that there was a coordinated component. Why that was not also offered as an explanation sooner, I don't know. Maybe to lull the attack's planners into a false sense of security and hope they made another error. That is also speculation, but at least it doesn't presuppose wrongdoing by Obama.

        We either already know (what you see is what you get) or we don't know, for reasons we also do not yet know. Speculation is rampant, and only among Obama's opponents, who never expressed such outrage when consulates were attacked and people died under President Bush. Not that Bush would have deserved that criticism–but it would have been easy to gin up similar speculation and outrage. "Why weren't the consulates better protected? Why didn't the administration know abut it sooner?" Decent, principled people did not do this.

        I don't mind the questions, I welcome them–but I do find their motivation extremely questionable.

        • fiddler

          I find the general treatment of Benghazi by the media, pre- and post election extremely questionable.

  • gosha

    Sorry, how many people we know around us that have an extra marital affair? What do we say about them? Just a few harsh words on our kitchen or over a private conversation. That’s it. As far as I am concerned this sin is between this person and G-D . Why all of the sudden it becomes the matter of a national security? Does anyone believe that Petreaus has transferred some kind of national secrets to his mistress? Is she proven to be some kind of foreign agent? So why all the fuss is about. Why all of the sudden this massive organized attack on Petreaus? Is it because he knows who really is responsible for Benghazi in US government and refuses to be the scapegoat? Yes, itn this case seems like it is Obama’s preemptive strike to destroy Petreaus’s credibility and render anything he can say that can damage this administration as a non-valid lies of the scorned man.


      You're extremely naive. If you were having a clandestine extramarital affair, you couldn't even be hired into the CIA at entry-level, let alone become director of the agency. Petraeus became a security risk, and so did his mistress, who was also married and also had a security clearance.

      You and the people you know do not have access to secret information that the enemy could blackmail you to get. That's the difference, and if you're not a complete idiot, you'll be able to see that.

      • Jim_C

        This is true.

        But how many people with credentials and character like Petraeus would cover such a tawdry and human failing as an extramarital affair by trading national security secrets?

        His resignation was appropriate. And tremendously disappointing in terms of what he could have been and the life of service dedicated to this country.

      • gosha

        Thanks for your "kind" remarks. Blog is a place for discussion on a matter of a difference in opinions. Obviously, according to you, your opinion is automatically the only right one? Now back to the subject: Thing is that most of the European politicians have mistresses. Everyone knows about them, it is all over newspapers and on television and considered to be a private matter, no fuss, no loss of jobs. It is not that I am in favor of how Europeans operate and I am really against European mindless liberalism, but at least one thing they’ve got right: your private life is private until it indeed becomes a matter of a national security if you are a government employee. This constantly happens with American politicians and Americans in general: Denying yourself your human nature leads to bigotry and scandals. This unbalanced approach leads to the situations when a simple matter becomes a national security issue and a brilliant military mind is ostracized for just being human and this country loses again.

  • Wolfe

    The lunatic Right of American politics need to be side-lined for the good of the country. A healthy democracy is nurtured by honest and responsible debate, not by conspiracy theories, smears, lies and deceptions. The results of the recent election speak for itself.

    If the Republican Party wishes to become a viable alternative government it must re-invent itself as a party of ethics and common sense. Catering to the lowest common denominator, as exemplified by the Tea Party and others, is not the way forward for what was once a great party. What the public wants is responsible action in the best interests of the country by the Opposition, as a forerunner to gaining the respect and support it desires.

    • Maxie

      Just substitute Left and Democrat and OWS where you've got Right, Republican and Tea Party and you've nailed it Wolfie.

    • Mary Sue

      and whence cometh this Inspiration From On High? How do you know who's lying and how can you be sure?

  • gosha

    How many American politicians do you know who actually know what they are doing? Petreaus does! He has proven this. Because of the idiotic desire to reach an unattainable goal of being holier the G-D Americans are constantly missing the mark and fall into the same pile of sh-t. And this is what in my book means being an idiot.

  • weroinnm

    Impeach Obama for Treason – Tancredo on Benghazi, Libya!
    “Food For Thought”

    Semper Fi!


  • @toronto4trayvon

    I don't think that the Republicans are taking this seriously

  • Lightning Jack

    As with Fast and Furious, the Benghazi terror attack hearings / investigations will go absolutely nowhere, not one of Obama's bureaucratic minions will be held accountable because the American media are not only ideological twins of Democratic Party, but part and parcel of the Obama machine.

    Why would a biased, ethically bankrupt American media now turn on the very man and regime they helped win one of the most corrupt, fraudulent elections in American history?

    You're living in a proto Soviet state comrade and its going to get much, much worse… especially when the chicken Republicans allow the leftist media and Democrat machine to intimidate, define and dictate policy to them.

  • Western Spirit

    Doesn't a sex scandal heighten Petraeus' chances to become President? Maybe all he has to do is change Parties.

    • Mary Sue

      I know right!