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November 11, 2012 8:17 AM The Legacy of Petraeus

By Ryan Cooper

The military and foreign policy isn’t normally my wheelhouse, but this David Petraeus thing is just irresistible. Today the Washington Post reports with some new, truly wretched details:

The collapse of the impressive career of CIA Director David H. Petraeus was triggered when a woman with whom he was having an affair sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him, according to three senior law enforcement officials with know­ledge of the episode.
The recipient of the e-mails was so frightened that she went to the FBI for protection and help tracking down the sender, according to the officials. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and a Petraeus biographer, and uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the officials said.

Petraeus was worshiped in Washington like perhaps no one else in the country. But with his shine definitely tarnished, it’s worth wondering what his legacy will be once the hagiography fades. After all, as Michael Hastings pointed out on MSNBC, he was responsible for a lot of questionable things:

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Let’s review Petraeus’ recent record: the surge in Iraq, which failed in most of its stated goals; the surge in Afghanistan, which also looks to have failed; and turning the CIA into a paramilitary organization which has assassinated American citizens (even a child) with no due process.

Now the two presidents are undoubtedly responsible for some of this as well, but to the extent that David Petraeus gets credit or blame for that record, he may not have such a great reputation in twenty years’ time, and I don’t think it will have much to do with his sordid affair.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman has a great piece about he got sucked into the cult of Petraeus.

@ryanlcooper

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

Comments

  • dr2chase on November 11, 2012 9:32 AM:

    You're suggesting that not all biographers will be as friendly as this one?

  • c u n d gulag on November 11, 2012 9:42 AM:

    If it weren't for the case of his position, and the possibility of blackmail, I couldn't care less that he had an affair.

    But it turns out, that even the thought that he might discredit himself and his reputation by having an affair made public by even having one, didn't stop him from having one, and disgracing himself, his reputation, and his legacy - the good, with the bad.

    Colin Powell make the same mistake when he went up in front of the UN, and either lied about Iraq, or was Romney-Ryan level gullible.
    That, to me, was far more serious than having an affair, or affairs.

    I've never been Petraeus's biggest fan, but you've got to give him credit for trying to make the best possible chicken salad out of the chicken sh*t that he was handed by W and Cheney. And now, President Obama.

    Petraeus, at least, did some good. We are, after all, mostly out of Iraq, and not warring with Iran.

  • jjm on November 11, 2012 9:42 AM:

    Amen to the criticism. I looked at the story on Le Monde--and they betray horror at the US calling him a 'hero' since his policies were largely failures.

  • bluestatedon on November 11, 2012 10:29 AM:

    "...uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus..."

    One of the biggest mysteries of our contemporary culture is why so many otherwise intelligent adults don't have the slightest clue about how digital internet-based communications works. Why did David Petraeus, of all people, think it was a good idea to exchange dirty emails with a woman who wasn't his wife? Is there nobody around any more with the ability to carry on an affair without blabbing it to the outside world? Jesus Tapdancing Christ on a Cracker, this is proof of the de-evolution of the human race.

  • Richard Cownie on November 11, 2012 10:31 AM:

    Petraeus is largely responsible for prolonging the wars in
    Iraq and Afghanistan. And what his career demonstrates is
    that counterinsurgency is a bad idea that doesn't work -
    even when it is executed by extremely smart and well-educated officers with modern technology and a huge budget and the greatest military ever seen. No quantity of
    PowerPoints and high-tech surveillance will turn
    Afghanistan into Belgium.

  • Prof B in LA on November 11, 2012 10:34 AM:

    As a veteran, and it being Veterans Day, I'd suggest that one reason for Petraeus' elevation to Wizard status is the dearth of veterans serving in Congress and in other publicly visible positions in the media. Since so few Americans know and/or understand military affairs, the fairy tale is taken for reality.

    http://www.russellburgos.com/2012/11/a-propos-de-laffaire-petraeus.html

  • Helen Bedd on November 11, 2012 10:53 AM:

    The entire media had an overly enthusiastic hero-worshiping relationship with General Petraeus.
    Broadwell just took it to the logical conclusion.....

    PS
    "Broadwell" as a name for a femme fatale is right out of a James Bond film.

    PPS:
    Although these threatening emails suggest another movie : "Fatal Attraction."

  • James M on November 11, 2012 10:59 AM:

    @c u n d gulag on November 11, 2012 9:42 AM:

    "If it weren't for the case of his position, and the possibility of blackmail, I couldn't care less that he had an affair."

    Once again c u n d gulag is spot on! Exactly, I could also care less, but as any John le Carre or Len Deighton fan would know, affairs are a definite no-no for spooks because of the risk of being blackmailed or compromised. I too disliked a lot of things that Gen. Petraeus did when he was commanding the Iraq operation and it always bothered my how so many legislators put him on pedestal.

    That being said, he did always strike me as an intelligent person dedicated to a career in public service-a rare thing these days. I am sure however, that when all the smoke clears he will quietly end up in some military/foreign policy think tank or corporate adviser position pulling in 1M+ a year, so I won't cry too many tears for him!

    p.s., Wasn't CAPTCHA supposed to be removed from PA? What happened to that? (Now on my 4th try by the way...!)

  • Elie on November 11, 2012 11:26 AM:

    I have to think that today, right now, Petraeus has got to be severly distressed and depressed. While he will have a means to make a living, his career as vaunted hero for many on the right -- and his potential career eventually as a possible Presidential candidate -- is over and done. No semi anonymous think tank position is going to make up for the loss. He gambled everything and ended up getting taken down by his own hubris and lack of caution.

    Still, I feel very sorry for him as a human. Depending on his ego, I would be moderately concerned about his being around firearms... He won't be out on the streets homeless after this -- but figuratively, he might as well be...

    Also, I do feel very sorry for his wife and family and the family of Broadwell.... they didn't ask for this...

  • Elie on November 11, 2012 11:29 AM:

    I have to think that today, right now, Petraeus has got to be severly distressed and depressed. While he will have a means to make a living, his career as vaunted hero for many on the right -- and his potential career eventually as a possible Presidential candidate -- is over and done. No semi anonymous think tank position is going to make up for the loss. He gambled everything and ended up getting taken down by his own hubris and lack of caution.

    Still, I feel very sorry for him as a human. Depending on his ego, I would be moderately concerned about his being around firearms... He won't be out on the streets homeless after this -- but figuratively, he might as well be...

    Also, I do feel very sorry for his wife and family and the family of Broadwell.... they didn't ask for this...

  • exlibra on November 11, 2012 12:22 PM:

    Remember that old joke?
    God is chatting with Eve, and tells her that he's made two important improvements to her man, both of which she's bound to like. "He now will have a brain, which will allow him to talk to you, and keep you entertained. He'll also have a penis, which will allow him to give you babies, and which will entertain you in different ways than the brain. The bad news is... I was unable to make the two additions function simultaneously"
    Time and again, this seems to be no more than a simple truth.

  • TCinLA on November 11, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Like all the other "great American military leaders" since 1945 (the ones between 1942-45 really were great), Petraeus has been an over-educated moron with a supreme ability to put a shine on a turd. His "counterinsurgency strategy" resulted in the Shia dictatorship coming into form in Iraq, and the Taliban taking a firm role in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With a few more of those kinds of "victories" the American Empire will finally be over (hooray!). Like everything else about the Empire - its politics, its economy, its culture, Petraeus is "all show and no go." He's truly "the very model of a modern major general." A fool who serves bigger fools.

  • AnOn on November 11, 2012 1:50 PM:

    I don't pile on when someone has an affair--it is a personal issue, of course. But being so highly placed in the military while we've had significant issues in the middle east that the right wing has relentlessly piled on hoping to browbeat and embarass the president really makes one's eyebrow raise.....while it is forseeable that two handsome people collaborating on a book makes for a closeness-- and that isn't surprising, really. But I look out for the president so Patraeus seems selfish and must pay the price of military rules.

  • BJ smith on November 11, 2012 2:18 PM:

    Does Mati Hari, seducing & spying ring a bell? Otherwise
    it is no one else's business. I'm grateful he will not be running as a Repub. Should Bill talk Hill into running , he is the only one who could have been successful,...............just thinking outloud.

  • zandru on November 11, 2012 3:02 PM:

    "Petraeus has got to be severly distressed and depressed."

    Yeah - and now he gets to go back to his wife of 37 years who he's "never cheated on before" - that she knows of.

    Now - what kind of catfight was going on between Ms Broadswell and the other woman? Did this involve the Irresistable General, too?

    With it's typical brilliance, Captcha remarks "walkon Adra". And probably many, many others...

  • sceptic on November 12, 2012 11:13 AM:

    Wheelhouse......I don't think that word means what you think it means.....

    The wheelhouse of a boat or ship is a key or important area where one would rather not be hit. You used it to mean ones forte, which is not what it means.

  • TomParmenter on November 12, 2012 6:41 PM:

    This wheelhouse:

    A hitter's power zone. Usually a pitch waist-high and over the heart of the plate.

    wikipedia