The CIA director resigns for a personal misjudgment, alas.
Wall Street Journal November 10, 2012
This being the United States of America in the Year of Our Lord 2012, it goes without saying that David Petraeus had no choice but to immediately resign the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency on Friday after revelations of an extramarital affair. As keeper of the nation’s secrets, Mr. Petraeus was uniquely susceptible to the sort of blackmail that knowledge of the affair might have exacted. And as head of an agency of government, he had a responsibility to set a first-class example in personal conduct.
Now remind us why these same considerations might not have applied equally to Dwight D. Eisenhower for his own marital indiscretions as Supreme Allied Commander in the Second World War?
We mention the comparison not to acquit Mr. Petraeus of exercising poor judgment. Nor should it relieve him of a full accounting of his role in the September 11 Benghazi debacle, significant details of which remain far from explained. CBS News reported Friday that Acting CIA Director Michael Morell would testify in Mr. Petraeus’s place at a closed Senate Intelligence Committee hearing next week. But the committee should have the testimony of the man in charge at the time, whatever his personal circumstances now.
Yet it’s also worth recalling that Eisenhower’s liaison with driver Kay Summersby was not treated as grounds for professional defenestration. Maybe our forbears weren’t so morally straightjacketed as we sometimes imagine. Maybe, too, there was more recognition that an indispensable man could be forgiven personal sins. Abraham Lincoln treated rumors of Ulysses S. Grant’s drinking with similar discretion:
Tell me what brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.
Mr. Petraeus’s tenure at Langley was probably too brief to form any real judgment of his impact on the hidebound agency. But his record as a strategist and battlefield commander was every bit the equal of Creighton Abrams, Eisenhower or George Patton. His plan and execution for a counterinsurgency campaign, which became known as the Iraq surge, saved the U.S. from a humiliating defeat.
What a pity that his service should come to a premature end through the collision of personal error and a zero-tolerance culture that doesn’t always serve this country well.
WORD WARRIOR’S TAKE ON THIS STORY:
Great nations are created and maintained by many factors: an industrious, disciplined, and devoted people; access to natural resources; accident of geography; and, perhaps foremost of all, great men.
One cannot imagine the United States becoming the great nation it remains today without the initial contributions of our amazing collection of Founding Fathers; George Washington most specifically. Nor would we have survived intact as a nation without the fortitude and wisdom of Abraham Lincoln at the helm of our ship of state during our darkest hour. Other great men have risen to meet the challenges of their times, and through their efforts and leadership guided America through difficult circumstances: Roosevelt during the Depression and WWII, or Reagan during the Cold War.
Similarly, one cannot imagine France as obtaining any level of greatness without the efforts of a Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Louis IV (the “Sun King”), or even Napoleon. Where would England have been without the barons at Runnymede, forcing a tyrannical King John to sign the Magna Carta? Would they have survived the crises of the Spanish Armada without a ruler as wise and resolute as Queen Elizabeth I on her throne? Would tiny island Britain have founded a global empire upon which “the sun never set”, without the contributions of less well-known but intrepid individuals, such as the 18th century general, Robert Clive, conqueror of much of India; explorers such as Sir Richard Burton; or fighting admirals such as Lord Horatio Nelson?
The decline and fall of great nations and empires can sometimes be traced (in some part) to the death or fall of their great men. Athens reached its “Golden Age” under the leadership of the statesman and visionary, Pericles. It began to decline (and to lose the Peloponnesian War) upon his death. The Macedonians went from being an obscure and petty kingdom in the barbaric north of Classical Greece to ruling the greatest empire the world had yet (at that date) seen under the leadership and because of the conquests (in 9 event-filled years!) of Alexander the Great. Upon his untimely death at the age of 32, his empire collapsed into warring kingdoms. Much later in history, a tiny German state (one of many what Churchill called “pumpernickel principalities”), Prussia, was propelled from ever-endangered obscurity to Great Power status by the military brilliance of one of her kings, Frederich the Great. It declined sharply after “old Fritz’s” death; until raised again to greatness by the political labors of her brilliant Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck.
Nations are gifted with great men on rare occasions. Such gifts should not be discarded lightly. HIstory is replete with the grim lessons doled out to nations who mistreated their great leaders.
Belisarius, Byzantium’s greatest general, ended his life a blind beggar in the streets of Constantinople; victim of an ungrateful and jealous emperor’s spite. The Empire he helped to create and maintain by his brilliant campaigns declined sharply after his disappearance from the stage; and his conquests were soon lost entirely.
Bismarck’ crowning achievement was to unify the German states into one empire. His reward was to soon be dismissed from his office by an ungrateful Kaiser; a boorish and incapable statesman who was to lead Germany, disastrously, into WWI.
This week saw the departure, in disgrace, of our greatest living general, David Petraeus. His fall came not as a result of incompetence (as far as we yet know), but because of a personal indiscretion. He, like many great men in history, had a mistress.
If the strict, “zero tolerance” standards imposed by our PC society today had been in effect in previous generations, we would have been deprived prematurely of many of our greatest leaders and military commanders. Thomas Jefferson would never have been our 3rd President; Franklin Roosevelt would have had to resign his office before leading us through the Second World War; “Ike” would have had to resign, perhaps on the eve of the “D-Day” landings at Normandy; Mathew Ridgway, our brilliant commander in Korea, who made a habit of changing mistresses in every one of his wars, would have been pulled down before stopping the Chinese at the 38th parallel (a feat General Omar Bradley called “the greatest feat of personal leadership in the history of the Army”); and John Kennedy would have been dragged through front page mud over innumerable personal liaison’s (including with Marilyn Monroe).
Times have changed, no doubt; but even in today’s politically correct, hypersensitive-to-indiscretions environment, it seems hypocritical for General Petraeus to have to resign for the very thing (on a much more mild scale) than Bill Clinton got a pass on.
The loss of a man of such brilliance from public service should not be taken lightly. Such losses can have deep consequences, unforseen at the time. Future historians, perhaps commenting on the decline of the American Empire, will take not of Petraeus’ fall from grace; and note this milestone, a sign of that America is no longer a serious society capable of greatness, or worthy of Great Power status.