Petraeus: A Flawed Leader In The Wrong Job

13 Nov

For all the adulation his followers – including, it seems, Paula Broadwell – have lovingly expressed, the policy implications of David Petraeus’ career are even more troubling. Petraeus might be a good guy, as exemplified by his supposed decision to take personal responsibility for his actions. At some point, though, American media need to get beyond the titillating details of extramarital affairs – indeed, hagiography in general – and investigate policy, like Petraeus’ role in the Iraq War and Afghanistan. And then, perhaps it would be beneficial for citizens to know how someone with questionable credentials, like Paula Broadwell, got a hold of classified documents, the one serious issue I’ve read raised during this specific episode.

In September, prosecutors and agents began a legal analysis to determine whether there were any charges that could be brought. Among the discussions: whether to interview Ms. Broadwell, who was the focus of the criminal probe, and Mr. Petraeus.

Top officials signed off on the interviews, which occurred in late September and October, just before the U.S. presidential election. During Ms. Broadwell’s first interview in September, she admitted to the affair and turned over her computer, the officials said.

On her computer, investigators found classified documents, the U.S. officials said, a discovery that raised new concerns.

At Mr. Petraeus’s interview in the week before the election, he also admitted the affair and said he hadn’t provided the classified documents to Ms. Broadwell. Agents conducted a second interview with Ms. Broadwell on Nov. 2. She also said Mr. Petraeus wasn’t the source of the documents.

That information helped resolve concerns that there was a national-security breach, although the source of the documents hadn’t been determined. The officials offered no specifics about what was in the documents.

Despite efforts at FBI and the Justice Department to keep the investigation closely held, word of it leaked to a small number of lawmakers. Rep. David Reichert (R., Wash.) received a tip from an FBI employee that there was a national-security issue related to Mr. Petraeus, according to an aide. He forwarded the information to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), who alerted the FBI in October.

“I was contacted by an FBI employee [who was] concerned that sensitive, classified information may have been compromised and made certain Director [Robert] Mueller was aware of these serious allegations and the potential risk to our national security,” Mr. Cantor said in a statement, which was reported by the New York Times on Sunday.

CIA Director David Petraeus resigned as head of the intelligence agency, saying he “showed extremely poor judgment” by engaging in an extramarital affair. Neil King has details on The News Hub. Photo: AFP/Getty Images.

FBI and Justice Department officials reassessed their investigation over the next several days and determined there wasn’t sufficient cause to bring charges. They advised the Director of National Intelligence of their findings at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, Election Day.

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said Mr. Clapper spoke with Mr. Petraeus that evening and the following day and urged him to step down.

“Speaking as a friend, colleague and fellow general officer, Gen. Clapper urged Gen. Petraeus to step down,” Mr. Turner said. Mr. Clapper is a retired Air Force lieutenant general, and Mr. Petraeus retired from the Army as a four-star general before assuming the helm at CIA.

Mr. Clapper informed the White House on Wednesday that Mr. Petraeus was considering resigning, Mr. Turner said.

Mr. Obama learned of the affair Thursday morning and met that day with Mr. Petraeus, who offered his resignation. Mr. Obama didn’t immediately accept it and took a day to consider it.

An extramarital affair doesn’t necessarily disqualify an official from serving as director of the CIA, and there are employees at the agency who have engaged in extramarital affairs without being forced to leave the agency.

Mr. Petraeus believed he should resign because the CIA would have viewed a lower-level employee engaged in an affair to be improper and that the director should set an example by publicly accepting responsibility, according to a person familiar with the events.

I’m afraid Broadwell and Jill Kelley will go down as the “other women” who will become the fallguys for Petraeus. Juan Cole was never a cult follower.

I was opposed to General Petraeus becoming head of the CIA in the first place, because one of the CIA’s charges is to evaluate policy, and one of the big policies that needs to be evaluated is the troop escalation, what is called the “surge,” in Afghanistan, the big counterinsurgency program that Petraeus put into place and then shepherded through as commander on the ground. And the CIA can’t properly evaluate that program if its head is the author of the program. And I’m sure the analysts tried, and maybe, you know, Petraeus tried to be objective and so forth, but it’s just not right. So I think that’s the real issue here, is why—why did the Obama administration put an actor in a military role, then as the head of the agency that will evaluate the actions?


…I think General Petraeus, in his heart, was opposed to the Iraq War and a little bit puzzled as to what in the world the Bush administration thought it was doing, because there’s that famous interview he gave early on, and when he was in Mosul, he said, “How does this end?” He couldn’t even conceive of it. And I think—you know, I saw him on television interacting with Arab families. It was set in Mosul. He went to them and said, you know, “What do you need? What can I get you?” So, I think among the generals who served in Iraq, he was one of the ones who tried to reach out to people and tried to accomplish something.

And—but I think he learned the wrong lessons from Iraq, because the U.S. was defeated in Iraq. And the only reason that they didn’t have to leave on helicopters suddenly at the end was because the Shiites ethnically cleansed the Sunnis. And it happened around the same time as the Petraeus troop escalation or surge in Iraq. And I think he took the wrong lesson from what happened in Baghdad. He kind of allied with the majority community, and so had a fairly soft landing, and then took it off and tried to replicate it in Afghanistan. That was the big error.

And there’s—this personal issue that cropped up that ruined his career at the end, I think, you know, is very much a minor thing, as a historian, I have to say, compared to, you know, his big exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the tragedy here, I take away, is that even with someone like Petraeus, who had a Ph.D. in international studies, is an intelligent, competent man, I think, often was trying to do the right thing, was put in an impossible situation—that the days when a great power can successfully occupy a Global South country were over with. And the Project for the New American Century simply wouldn’t come to terms with that reality. And so, in many ways, General Petraeus’s career got ruined twice.

Spencer Ackerman has also pierced the fog of his own Petraeus worship, concluding that “…a lot of the journalism around Petraeus gave him a pass, and I wrote too much of it. Writing critically about a public figure you come to admire is a journalistic challenge.” Ackerman also questions Broadwell’s access to Petraeus, since she “…didn’t have a journalistic background, and it seemed a bit odd that she was visibly welcomed into Petraeus’ inner circle.”
To give Petraeus his due – and along with his personal decision to allow himself to use Gmail – he might have challenged the CIA to expand its mission beyond the War on Terror.

Nearly every major international security concern facing Petraeus’ successors is, in essence, a question of intelligence: What is Iran’s nuclear capability, really? Which way will the Syrian civil war go? Why is China building up its Navy so fast? What the hell is Kim Jong-Un up to? “Those are things that you’re not going to learn through diplomacy or through press reporting. And that takes you to intelligence,” John E. McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director, tells Danger Room. ”The biggest challenge may be the sheer volume of problems that require intelligence input.”

A few days before he abruptly resigned, Petraeus’ spokesperson told Danger Room that he was in no way allowing the drone strikes and the counterterror raids to dominate his day. ”From his first day on the job, Director Petraeus has sought to achieve a balance between our counterterrorism efforts and ensuring the Agency’s ability to cover the full range of national security challenges facing the U.S.,” Jennifer Youngblood said in an e-mail. ”While counterterrorism remains a top priority, the Agency is equally determined to enhance our capabilities against the enduring threats from strategic competitors and adversaries that will always be at the core of our mission. In fact, Director Petraeus has overseen the development of an initiative to increase global coverage significantly, and that effort is now ongoing.”

David Petraeus was a flawed, if ethical leader whose career was nurtured in a single organization and who faced the challenge of the next promotion without the comfort of that familiar routine. His legacy should be the policy questions his tenure as a soldier and spy raise, not his personal conduct.


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