The Patraeus Affair: Does it Really Matter?
The David Petraeus narrative is coming out in dribs and drabs, all the better to make things look worse than they are and give the story long, long gams. Petrausgate is as strange, or stranger, than any other Washington “boy meets girl … boy beds girl … boy resigns … girl hides in an undisclosed location” story. Surprisingly, everyone is still working out the details of a story with more plot twists than the Da Vinci Code. They are just beginning to get to the rights and wrongs of the matter and as we all know, that’s when the sh*t will really hits the fan.
Despite the coming onslaught of, “God smiteth thou who cannot keep his pecker in his pants” admonishments, most Americans could probably care less the General had an affair. Heck, half of America is screwing around so they tend not to get too worked up over sexual indiscretions – unless they are televangelists coveting their neighbor’s wives. That’s as it should be. Morality is best left to the people exercising those morals. No one needs a squadron of Church Ladies to tell them they will burn in eternal fire because of something they did behind closed doors. Note to over-reaching religious zealots, if they will indeed burn in hell, it’s between them and Beelzebub. No more needs be said.
Although I usually follow the screw and let screw position, there are some differences between Petraeus and your average cad. For one, he’s the leader of America’s spy apparatus.
Inclined to Watch Goats a Little Lasciviously
He’s the guy all the international America-haters would most like to knock off and there is no better way than to catch him doing something really embarrassing. In the Old World, blackmail would’ve been the tool du jour. Revealing someone was gay or inclined to watch goats a little lasciviously was a sure-fire way to dispose of an intelligence enemy. Today, outing someone would produce a collective American yawn. Even being a goat-lover might not be so bad as long as it was a consenting goat. But, if you doubt the power of embarrassment, I offer the following examples: Bill Clinton threw away his second term by breaking the law in trying to cover up the embarrassing fact he used Monica as his little humidor. John Edwards tried to keep the lid on his love child while killing his career. The list is endless.
Blackmail is a hard thing to do these days because people aren’t embarrassed about much of anything. However, Patraeus’s indiscretions aren’t about embarrassment or blackmail. They are about genuine concerns for national security.
A man who babbles a little too much during après sex pillow talk is a legitimate security risk. A man who is so unconcerned about keeping the affair secret that the cuckolded hubby finds out, blows the whistle, and writes a letter to Dear Abby is a legitimate security risk. A man who is so oblivious to a paramour who used his email account for a cat fight with a family friend is a security risk. Plus, if he is this cavalier about a relatively harmless extramarital affair, what does it say about his critical thinking skills when it comes to more important events? People have been fired for much less and rightly so.
Congress is another matter. If there is hypocrisy afoot, their hems may be the ones showing too much ankle. Congressional overseers are miffed they weren’t told straightaway. However, these are the same people who routinely leak like a colander. I can understand the FBI’s reticence in informing them until they had all the facts, especially since it didn’t appear the General broke any laws or caused any real damage. Using the oversight committees’ logic, every member of Congress should get a daily briefing explaining that they and every other member of Congress is under investigation, because at some point, they all are.
Holly Petraeus will Have His Stars and Balls
Still, the intelligence committees do have a point. The law requires notice of things like this, even if the law is vague on the rules about when – one man’s notification is another man’s prudent holding the notice until the facts are in.
Finally, there are the matters of optics and transparency. While Petraeus may not have done any real security damage, he did splash mud on his boss’s wingtips. Despite all the talk of bipartisanship, Congress is still an ugly, obstreperous place and there will be investigations until the cows come home. The chances we’ll get away with one good investigation and drop it to get on with more important things is nill.
On the transparency front, Congress has always struggled with how to oversee things they can’t be trusted to see. The intelligence community struggles equally hard with how and when to communicate sensitive matters. It’s hard on your transparency cred when the FBI knew about the affair for months and neglected to send it up the chain until a few days after the election. Though that doesn’t seem to be the political case here, one could understand why opponents might think conspiracy instead of transparency.
Personal affairs like these almost never end well – just ask Holly Petraeus how “furious” she is. By the time this is over the General will be lucky to keep his stars in the divorce and his balls still attached to cheat another day. But, that’s no concern of the nation. What is a concern of the nation is how poorly the man in charge of national security protected that security while squandering his own. It makes one wonder.
Will these guys never learn?
Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks! More than politics, more than pop culture & humor.