The bar for scandals has been getting pretty high. When I was a kid, a president was forced from office because he tried to cover up illegal behavior by his subordinates. As Nixon put it, “mistakes were made” and they proved to be the end of him. He richly deserved it.
Twenty-five years later, we countenanced a president who committed felony perjury because it was "just about sex" and the Dow Jones was up. Until now, most of the legacy media showed little interest in the Obama administration’s apparently deliberate attempt to obscure the nature of the attack on our consulate in Benghazi. We must be a kinder and gentler nation today. “Mistakes,” at least by Democrats, seem much easier to forgive.
The Benghazi scandal, until very recently, seemed to be a prime example of the mainstream’s media determination to see no evil when it might harm a favored president. In a rare moment that was both memorable and lucid, Joe Biden struck upon one of the few positive themes of the Obama campaign. “General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.” Those nasty old terrorists are on the run. The president’s amazing name and Jedi-like powers of persuasion (“this is not the jihad you are looking for”) had brought about the Arab Spring. We’re safe now. We are now post-9/11.
But the theme threatened to unravel on, of all days, September 11, 2012 with the organized attack on our consulate in Benghazi. Within 24 hours, the CIA station in Libya and other sources close to the attack seem to have known what really happened. Nevertheless, the administration – whether deliberately or from confirmation bias - set out to create the impression that this was not an organized attack by Islamic terrorists who were supposed to no longer exist. They suggested it was simply a protest against a “despicable” on-line video denigrating the Prophet that got out of hand. In a creepy display of moral equivalence, the President’s surrogates suggested that there was no excuse for the (nonexistent) protesters or the blasphemous filmmaker. Even CIA Director David Petraeus appears to have supported the cover story in a briefing on Capitol Hill several days after the attack.
As that story unraveled and questions began to arise regarding the failure of the administration to come to the aid of the besieged consulate, it finally conceded that there was no protest. It turns out to have been those terrorists again. In Watergate terms, this was a “modified limited hangout.” Admit some of the truth within a haze of misdirection and hope no one notices. The mainstream media was too eager to comply.
But everything may have changed last Friday. It was then that we learned that a couple of our most decorated military commanders and at least one of their female acquaintances have been acting like the cast of the HBO series “Girls.” Petraeus turns out to have been having an affair with his biographer. The biographer, herself married with two small children, allegedly had come to see a female friend of the Petraeus family as a romantic rival and began to send her threatening e-mails. Our current commander in Afghanistan, a man known as the “warrior monk,” is being investigated for sending an inordinately large number of “inappropriate” e-mails to the aforementioned friend and suspected rival. Insert your own bad pun.
It turns out that even the best of us are fallen beings.
Sex and lies and videotape and terrorists. This is something that simply cannot be ignored and it deepens the Benghazi plot. Officials in the Justice Department apparently knew that the Director of the CIA was compromised in this way since last summer but did not tell the President until after the election. Even if that is true, it does not make the matter much better. Shouldn’t the President of the United States – even one engaged in the critical business of keeping his job – know that the government’s top intelligence official is ripe for blackmail?
It may get worse. Petraeus knew that his philandering had been exposed at the time that he briefed Congress. But he apparently still thought that he might be able to keep his job. Could that have affected a briefing that was apparently at odds with the facts on the ground? You want to think not, but the question is unavoidable.
Many are struck by the fact that the revelation of the affair and ensuing resignation seems to have come in a sweet spot for the administration – after the election and before Petraeus was scheduled to testify before a congressional oversight committee. That testimony was cancelled and Petraeus himself apparently thinks he need not testify.
He’s fooling himself. Members on both sides of the aisle are making it quite clear that he will testify whether he wants to or not. Resignation does not absolve one of responsibility.
Mistakes were made. It remains to be seen just what they were and what the consequences will be.
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