On eve of testimony to Congress on Benghazi, CIA Director David Petraeus forced out over an affair

Updated November 10, 2012

David Petraeus, the nation’s most-celebrated military commander, has been forced to resign, ostensibly over an affair which came to light in an FBI investigation of unauthorized access to his computers and personal e-mail. Petraeus had been scheduled to testify in Congress next week on the attack on the Benghazi consulate and CIA “annex”, and the U.S. response.

According to the New York Times account, Petraeus was encouraged by others to resign.

Senior members of Congress were alerted to Mr. Petraeus’s impending resignation by intelligence officials about six hours before the C.I.A. announced it. One Congressional official who was briefed on the matter said that Mr. Petraeus had been encouraged “to get out in front of the issue” and resign, and that he agreed.

–Michael D. Shear, “Petraeus Quits; Evidence of Affair Was Found by F.B.I.,” New York Times, November 9, 2012.

Whether there is anything more to the coincidence of timing than meets the eye remains to be seen.

With the CIA and the Obama administration, however, it is always prudent to look beyond what meets the eye.

Robert Baer, a celebrated former CIA agent, stated the following in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN on Friday:

CNN contributor and former CIA operative Robert Baer spoke to Piers Morgan Friday and gave his perspective on the resignation of General David Petraeus. The now former CIA director resigned from his post earlier Friday citing an extramarital affair.

“The idea that the FBI is investigating the CIA director for a marital, extramarital affair is just extraordinary,” said Baer in response to the news that the FBI was investigating the general and the alleged individual involved with the affair, Petraeus’ biographer Paula Broadwell.

“There are 4 or 5 CIA directors that I know who were carrying on extramarital affairs while they were director. The FBI was never brought in,” said Baer. “So this is absolutely extraordinary. I’m telling you there’s more to do than with sex. There’s something going on here which I can’t explain and I think we’re going to find out very soon.”

–Piers Morgan Tonight, November 9, 2012 (with video clip)

See also

Philip Sherwell, “Spy chief Gen David Petraeus, his ’embedded’ biographer and the FBI email trawl that exposed their affair.” The Telegraph, November 10, 2012.

Petraeus is the second current or former U.S. commander in Afghanistan to be replaced or forced to resign for “errors in judgment”.  Stanly McChrystal was the first. He was replaced by David Petraeus in June, 2010, following the publication in Rolling Stone of scurrilous comments by McChrystal and his staff about other leaders and officials.

One common denominator in these two cases was that both men, priding themselves on their extraordinary physical fitness, operated on the basis of severe sleep deprivation.

There are many more wrinkles to this story, but one lesson seems clear: If we want our commanders to make good judgments, we should insist that they get enough sleep. That applies to the Commander-in-Chief as well, and represents at least one positive lesson President Obama can take away from this episode.

Among the many questions raised by Petraeus’ resignation are the following:

1. Why did the FBI refrain from acting on the Petraeus case until after the elections on November 6?

2. According to reports, Obama and Petraeus did not have a warm relationship.  Was Obama involved in the timing of the FBI investigation being brought to Petraeus’ attention?

3. If not the president, who was behind the timing of the confrontation with Petraeus?

4. What is the relationship, if any, between the timing of the forced resignation, and Petraeus’ testimony before Congress on the Benghazi affair, which was scheduled for next week?

5. What is the relationship, if any, between the CIA’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, and a long-overdue National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan, and the timing of Petraeus’ departure?

In the end, in seeking to understand Petraeus’ wreckless behavior, one has to wonder to what extent he was deeply unhappy with his situation at the CIA, with the “withdrawal” policy being followed in Afganistan, and with his own cool relationship with the president.   

Most telling, perhaps, is the fact that the affair reportedly took place not under the extreme stress of wartime conditions in Afghanistan, but after he returned to Washington.

Surely he knew that his personal e-mails would be read.  Ultimately, we may need to inquire into the subconscious roots of his self-destructive behavior. 

Here, we have the makings of a great novel, and a great movie. The general may, if fact, be the emblematic man of our times. 

What Petraeus thinks about our policy in Afghanistan is something we may have to wait a while to hear, at least until after he has found his way to emerge from the sea of shame that has inundated him in the last few days. 

When he is ready to speak, many will be eager to hear what he has to say, about President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

The Trenchant Observer