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Just War, Folks....more...and more

Does the Petreus-Allen scandale, such as it may turn out to be, help to explain why the U.S. has lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...not just the wars, of course.MORE: Pat Lang's blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis, has among its posters and commenters a good many retired military and intelligence officials (or at least they seem to be retired). The site has always been critical of Petraeus and, no suprise, there have been some posts on current events. Here is one on the Lebanese factor in the generals' downfall. And from one of the commenters here is a link to counterpunch with a very sharp analysis of Petraeus's military skills.AND MORE: Stephen Walt has a sane "still in the middle of the scandal" assessment of how this adds up, or not.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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How so? I don't follow the "news", but I take it that an American general was found by the government secret police to have kept a sort of affair more or less private. That's it? Do you mean, if our generals are naive enough to think that they can keep their liaisons secret they don't have the smarts necessary to be effective generals?By the way, "lost the wars" is surely only one interpretation of what happened, no? Saying, "enough, already" isn't necessarily equivalent to "losing". Swords weren't turned over to enemies in ceremonial capitulation, where they?

David if the reports of the volume of e-mails are even remotely accurate, if you divide the volume by the time frames it equals around 25 e-mails a day every day!!!! ( I think the reports are 20K of pages and e mails in roughly two years). If Allen is sending that much correspondence to a woman whose only job is to arrange parties, then I would say that his head is definitely not on protecting the men and women who are putting their lives on the lines. These service men and women deserve the leadership's full attention and they were plainly not getting it. Nor was the country. Nor was his wife and family back home. But guess who was? It is truly disgraceful. Plus going to all of these sneaky lengths to conceal an affair is a big problem. It does open you up to do some pretty irrational things not to be discovered. The first is how on earth can a director of the CIA be so stupid as to think that it would be able to be a secret (which it really wasn't).Finally, his choice of mistress goes to his judgement. I am surprised Ms. Broadwell was not boiling rabbits.Bad for morale, bad for the reputation of the US military, bad all the way around.Oh yeah....lest we forget, four Americans were killed in Benghazi and nobody has a clue why or what happened.

Does the Petreus-Allen scandale, such as it may turn out to be, help to explain why the U.S. has lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistannot just the wars, of course.Yes.How could Allen and Kelley find time to produce 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents in three years? How could Petraeus and Broadwell look so much alike? (Using the terrorists' tactic of never actually sending their e-mail, but simply reading the drafts, was . . . clever?)What did the message carried to Bush by Laghi in his diplomatic pouch really say?Why was it so important for Cheney to ignore the warnings about Afghanistan from our old enemy, Russia? (Who has made the most money from those wars?)How does it feel to be the parent of a soldier whose life was wasted in those wars?Why did Kelley tell the police dispatcher she has "diplomatic inviolability"? Why didn't Cantor warn Obama? (Did he warn Romney?) Why did the two generals write letters for Kelley's sister? (And why did the judge ignore such impassioned interventions?) Why did Kelley and her husband go into debt to support their charade? (Was it thrilling when Petraeus arrived at one of their parties with a 28-cop motorcycle escort? Are the Tampa taxpayers happy to see their money wasted in this way?)

Is this what comes of civilian political leaders never serving in the military? They get snowed by the officer corps of the military.

Margaret Steinfels: Yes, unfortunately, President Obama got snowed into going along with General Petraeus's schemes. But don't forget that President Kennedy, who served in World War II, got snowed into going along with the ill-conceived Bay of Pigs invasion.

Wasn't the Bay of Pigs a CIA invention?

Margaret Steinfels: The common denominator, so to speak, involves a president of the United States getting snowed into going along with something that he would have been well advised not to go along with. To his credit, President Kennedy took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs debacle, as he should have as the commander in chief. Unfortunately, President Obama has apparently not yet figured out that he got snowed into going along with schemes that he should not have gone along with.

David Smith: Two Generals, one in charge of both Iraq and Afghanistan and the other in charge of Afghanistan, both seem to have a lot of time on their hands for non-essential correspondence, interviews, and general socializing. Do their lives in bubbles far from the battlefields where the troops flail away (at least in Afghanistan) relieve them of responsibility to those troops and the direction of the war?As to losing two wars: if you prefer, we might say that the fig leaf covering Iraq has virtually vanished and the fig lead being attempted in Afghanistan will hardly get pasted on before the Taliban start up the war again. I will grant you that Paul Bremmer, viceroy after the invasion, lost Iraq from Day One.

Over the years I have noted that the news media gravitate toward sensationalistic stories. So the Petraeus scandal seems like it was made for media coverage.Honestly, two generals wrote letters of support of a woman in her custody battle with her now ex-husband, which she lost? But weren't those two general supposed to be engaged in fighting a war somewhere?

All those smashing military victories, and those regimes overthrown and replaced - isn't that pretty much the conventional definition of "victory"?If we're talking about the generals, I expect they think they won those wars. They don't make the policies.

The plot is thickening. Juan Cole has this on his blog today (Wednesday): "The headlines about the Petraeus affair in the Arab world this morning almost universally read something like Lebanese woman brings down CIA. The woman who seems to have destroyed three careers and kicked off the FBI investigation of Gen. David Petraeus, ex-director of the CIA, goes by Jill Kelley. But her maiden name is Gilberte Khawam." Rest here:

Jim, the goal of the war in Iraq was to ensure that it didn't have WMD. I would say that that war was won before it even started. By conventional definition. Everything else that happened was "bonus".

Jim Pauweis: Read Bob Woodward's "Obama's War," and see how policy was made in Afghanistan and who made it. The president signs off after beating back Petraeus's plea for twice as many troops.And if these are victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, what must defeat look like?

"Bonus" on the US side:

Claire: While we have you on the line: What is France and Hollande up to in Syria?

Yes, Kelley is a child of Lebanese parents. She seems to have inherited their entertaining and bankruptcy genes. It will be interesting (1) to learn the identity of the FBI guy who sent her topless pictures of himself; and (2) whether he told Romney about the Petraeus/Allen/Kelley/Broadwell quadrangle.Article about Kelley's Philly roots: that:Kelley works as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. According to a statement she and her husband released Sunday, they have been friends with Petraeus and his wife, Holly, for five years.A 1988 Inquirer feature about the Khawam family's culinary roots described Kelley's father as an accomplished musician in their homeland and her mother as a chef who liked to entertain political and cultural figures.In the late 1980s, the Khawams ran a Middle Eastern restaurant in Voorhees called Sahara. The restaurant was closed within a few years, according to a 1990 bankruptcy petition the couple filed.John Khawam also owned an auto tag store in Northeast Philadelphia, records show.

No idea. (I don't think too many people have any idea, actually.)

"...I take it that an American general was found by the government secret police to have kept a sort of affair more or less private."That is not correct. A civilian government employee who retired as a general from the Army in August 2011 purportedly was engaged in an "extramarital affair" from the fall of 2011 through the summer of 2012. There is no publically available information to suggest any members of the general officer corps were involved in any violations of the UCMJ outside of the ordinary course. The people at Fox News who invented this "scandal" still don't get it - Americans do not subscribe to their Neanderthal notions of gender and sexual conduct and do not care what people do in their private lives as long as it does not interfere with their own liberty.

One of the most interesting features of US political and military arrangements is that civilian, are in fact, in charge of the military. Obama is the commander in chief and not a victim. He, and he alone, signs off on broad military strategies and even when it comes to certain tactical questions, he also is the commander. How he acquits himself in all of this (including and especially Benghazi) is the critical question.Charles Krauthammer whose opinion and analysis I respect has some important insights on this whole question.I think the really shocking news today was that General Petraeus thought and hoped he could keep his job. He thought that it might and it would be kept secret, and that he could stay in his position. I think what that tells us is really important. It meant that he understood that the FBI obviously knew what was going on. He was hoping that those administration officials would not disclose what had happened, and therefore hoping that he would keep his job. And that meant that he understood that his job, his reputation, his legacy, his whole celebrated life was in the hands of the administration, and he expected they would protect him by keeping it quiet.

And that brings us to the ultimate issue, and that is his testimony on September 13. Thats the thing that connects the two scandals, and thats the only thing that makes the sex scandal relevant. Otherwise it would be an exercise in sensationalism and voyeurism and nothing else. The reason its important is heres a man who knows the administration holds his fate in its hands, and he gives testimony completely at variance with what the Secretary of Defense had said the day before, at variance with what hed heard from his station chief in Tripoli, and with everything that we had heard. Was he influenced by the fact that he knew his fate was held by people within the administration at that time?

Read more:

Every day the New York Times has a box somewhere in the first section that lists the names of the American troops who have lost their lives a day or two before in Afghanistan. At times there are two or three names, but usually five or six. It is quite sobering to read the names and ages of these young people who have lost their lives in this fruitless saga. And given our all-volunteer army, many of these young people have died on their second, third, fourth tour of duty.As well, Walter Reed Hospital, now in the Bethesda suburb of Washington, is filled with severely injured troops who are undergoing some form, often quite necessarily limited, of rehabilitation. I know people who are working with these injured soldiers, including the extraordinary Father Rick Curry, SJ, of Georgetown. Their accounts are heart-rending.And the civilian deaths.Where is the outcry! How long, O Lord, how long!

Petreaus, Bill Clinton, John Edwards spent their working life each being the smartest person in any room they were in.. So much for smarts... when hormones are the brain drivers.

We don't know enough facts about these incidents to draw conclusions yet. I suspect, however, that the public will hold the political leadership -- particularly the Bush administration -- more responsible than the military leadership for all the difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I further suspect that military expeditions that smack of "nation building" will be in bad odor for a long time to come. With regard to the subject of the effectiveness of our military leadership in these wars, you might want to read the article in The Atlantic by Thomas Ricks that was published before these sex-scandal stories broke. Its entitled "General Failure," and its thesis is that an unhealthy culture of caring more about protecting the careers of military leaders than in holding them accountable for failures has taken hold in the military. He compares this to a much more determined, even ruthless, effort to hold their feet to the fire in the past -- for example, in WWII. You can find the article here

Surely this is just another "news" scandal, pot banging and flashing lights about sex among celebrities. Whatever culture of moral laxity and misdirected energy it illustrates can't be news for "journalists", who just shrugged their shoulders until a nice juicy sex story fell into their laps.Top generals are probably as much politicians and celebrities as presidents and senators, whose staff certainly do almost all the real work and decision making. If Obama were to contract sleeping sickness tomorrow, the country would continue to function with hardly a hitch. It's probably the same in the military.

Krauthammer? Interesting how voraciously the right-wing cannibalizes its own.

Gerelyn:One of the things that I am grateful for as a result of a strict Catholic upbringing especially by my father was important life lessons.The first of these is that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10). And according to St. Thomas respect of persons is a sin against justice.Principle should trump tribalism.I think that there should, of course, be forgiveness for these sins of the flesh and normally they should remain private. At the same time, to whom much has been given much is expected. I respect that Patreus resigned and I take him at his word that he is repairing the damage done to his family. There is public implications to this story and when one's personal sins have the potential to impact public responsibilities, then they need to be called out.I know a woman who had to go to the dean when she discovered that the professor was having sex with a fellow student in her class. Her concern was not the sex so much as it was that the fact that she was sleeping with him undermined trust in his impartiality, it introduced inequity in the class, and conveyed a sense of injustice.I was a student at the time and personally, I liked and admired this professor but had to supprt the student.Oh, BTW, the complaint went nowhere but at least she raised it to the appropriate authorities. What they did with that information is up to them.

Jeff Greenwald sees Petraeus and Allen as casualties of the new extended surveillance state. Interesting take, given the expected obsession of the media with new sex scandal. I should say legally extended, given Hoover's treatment of his unfavored in decades past.

George, I have no idea what you're talking about or how the personal anecdotes have any bearing on the accusations from Kraut and Rush that Petraeus has perjured himself and is prepared to do so again.

Gerelyn:Let me be more clear.You said that " Interesting how voraciously the right-wing cannibalizes its own."In interpret that as sarcasm. Cannibalizing is a judgmental term and suggests that "right-wing" people should stick together. They should not. Nor should left wing. that kind of tribalism is opposed to justice.Krauthammer is not cannibalizing his own. He is demonstrating equanimity and that is a virtue. Makes no difference what political label the characters have. At issue is the principle. Patraeus, according to the reports, gave testimony or at least a briefing at odds with what other intelligence people were giving him.Why?

Acts have consequences: What is disquieting about what we know (and don't know yet) is that smart people seem to have lost contact with that reality. What were they thinking? Even when we are not dealing with the limbic system, how can people well versed in the capacities of the National Security system not consider that they will be exposed (rightly or wrongly) and that what they have apparently worked so hard to achieve for their whole life will be destroyed (I include Major Paula Broadwell), and possibly the lives of several others.

Peggy, The simple answer to your question is No. There are many fathers and mothers of our status in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The awful quotes by Petraeus's mistress, Paula Broadwell, in this article clearly demonstrate why why these wars are the crimes of the century:

As Broadwell tells it, the villagers understood that the United States needed to destroy their homes except when they dont. One villager in a fit of theatrics had accused Flynn of ruining his life after the demolition [of his town].Sure they are pissed about the loss of their mud huts, Broadwell wrote on Facebook, but that is why the BUILD story is important here.

I cannot help but think that using pilotless drones is part of a mentality that doesn't see the consequences of how the U.S. military chose to conduct these wars. See no evil....and then it doesn't exist.

"Pissed about the loss of their mud huts"? How ignorant, and how offensive!The memory for such events lasts a long time. My mother's village was burnt to the ground by the German army in 1944. All the older people remember it, of course (they became refugees until the place was rebuilt). Families also have lasting scars: why do we have no pictures of my mother as a child? Because the photos were burnt. Why no furniture, dolls, books, or any kind of souvenirs? Because they burnt. Even young outsiders cannot escape from that memory either: the rebuilt village looks different from surrounding villages. Why does it not benefit from tourism? Because tourists prefer to go elsewhere. Why? Because it lacks charm. Why? Because it's all post-war reconstruction. It's unable to charm tourists, so its economy is dead, and the younger generation hass gone elsewhere to find jobs. Before setting it on fire, the Germans asked everyone to leave the village, so there were no casualties, but it is still a deep, long lasting trauma.

Even when we are not dealing with the limbic system, Not sure how (or why) we would not deal with the limbic system. That's who and what we are -- creatures with amygdala memories so deep we cannot forget them. Surely that's part of self-destruction. A general, no matter how many motorcycle cops escort him to a "socialite's" party, knows that under all the medals and ribbons, he's just a man, a helpless little baby in mommy's arms, a struggling little tadpole in mommy's amniotic ocean. He knows he doesn't deserve the fawning, etc. The secret must be told, even if he must tell it. "Art is confession; art is the secret told." --Thornton Wilder

Krauthammer??? He obsessed with a supposed Benghazi cover up. What cover up??Thr four Americans including the ambassador were involved in covert operations. Krauthammer probably thinks Ambassador Stevens was working on tourist and trade in Libya

The hypocrisy of the Rush/Kraut/Issa/Cantor/et al. crowd is nauseating. They were the ones who cut security for the embassies, but they want it to be Obama's fault.

For those who have never spent any time in the military, generals are subject to the same hothouse worship as are, well .... cardinals! They are surrounded by lackies who know where THEIR next promotion comes from. They demand and get unquestioning obedience to their every order. They tend to actually believe that, outside of their own worlds, the rest of us will treat them the same way and fall down and adore them regularly.Guess what?

"Thr four Americans including the ambassador were involved in covert operations. Krauthammer probably thinks Ambassador Stevens was working on tourist and trade in Libya"Exactly. Kraut was complaining that the President pretended to stop the enhanced interrogation of alledged terrorists and then Kraut pretends to be shocked that the President was having alledged terrorists tortured in Benghazi. What a hack.

MAT' there is exactly none... no evidence there was CIA torture in Benghazi. There is a report that there was a covert hiring of Iraqi mercenaries to protect the consulate. But asNick Machiavelli said [I'll translate for those not familiar with elegant medieval Italian] " Mercenaries ain't worth s---'

"MAT there is exactly none no evidence there was CIA torture in Benghazi."I didn't say the CIA tortured anyone. As we do with our black sites in Afghanistan, we let the locals torture terrorist suspects on our behalf. If you and your other Republican friends at Fox News disagree with that you should take it up with the United Nations.

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels 11/14/2012 - 1:15 pm CONTRIBUTORActs have consequences: What is disquieting about what we know (and dont know yet) is that smart people seem to have lost contact with that reality.What were they thinking? Even when we are not dealing with the limbic system, how can people well versed in the capacities of the National Security system not consider that they will be exposed (rightly or wrongly) and that what they have apparently worked so hard to achieve for their whole life will be destroyed (I include Major Paula Broadwell), and possibly the lives of several others.

Margaret, I imagine this means that P's behavior is perfectly normal and acceptable in those circles and that he assumed he was protected by the crowd. Clinton, with Lewinsky, must have felt the same. Apparently the danger to P came from outside, from someone - the partner - who failed to grasp what was expected in that culture - or simply didn't give it the required respect. Clinton, at the height of power, almost didn't survive; P, considerably further down the totem pole, lost his head.Power corrupts - always has corrupted and always will.

ISTM that since the advent of the new information technologies the morality of information gathering begs for more attention from the ethicists. And there are lots of questions left over from BC (before computers). Now consider Benghazi. Already there is an ethical principle that runs something like this: a person has a right to information about what affects his life greatly. Another old principle: an unjust law is no law at all. So, when one nation, Nation A, is plotting and planning to do evil to another, Nation B, does B have a right to that information? And if gathering the information cannot be done legally according to the laws of Nation A does Nation B have a right to break the laws of Nation A? It seems to me it does. In other words, covert spying is sometimes justified.So perhaps the ambassador in Benghazi was morally correct to try to gather information, assuming he wasn't torturing to do it. SIDEBAR: is it morally justified to say he ordered torturing when there is no evidence that he did? Yes, it is justified for his bosses to look into the possibility he is torturing, but for the rest of us to assume that he did is at this point unair.The whole Benghazi mess coupled with the PEtraeus/Allen scandal has become occasion for the invention of so many extraordinary theories that not for nothing did Sen. Feinstein say it is starting to look like the National Inquirer. We seem to have become a nation of peeping toms and, in an old American tradition, tall tale inventors, only now we believe the tales.

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels 11/14/2012 - 2:23 pm CONTRIBUTORI cannot help but think that using pilotless drones is part of a mentality that doesnt see the consequences of how the U.S. military chose to conduct these wars. See no evil.and then it doesnt exist.

Chicken or egg? Did drones bring about the insensitivity and immoral behavior or did the latter prepare the way for the former? In an amoral society, there's nothing to prevent any sort of rationalizing from looking good. Everything's on the table; the only touchstone is expediency. That's why religion is indispensible to a moral society - without it, all reasoning can be made to look moral and acceptable and normal. Killer drones, presidents behaving like Mafia dons, and a host of lesser outrages committed at all levels of government appear in the moral vacuum you get when there are no prohibitions that can't be talked away.

Interesting blog you linked in the "MORE" section, Margaret. (He asks if Paula Krantz Broadwell is "connected to Israel somehow.")

Pat Lang's blog is interesting, although like any blog it has to be read critically. As for any connection between Broadwell and Israel I haven't seen one.

Agree that blogs (including this one) should be read critically.

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