(By Deutsche Welle) The US national security establishment has been shaken by a sex scandal involving David Petraeus. Respected for his role in the Afghan and Iraq wars, the former general may have become a casualty of his own power.
Just days after Petraeus resigned his post as CIA director over an affair with his biographer, General John Allen’s nomination to lead US European Command has been delayed over his alleged connections to a woman at the center of the scandal.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement to reporters saying that Allen’s nomination had been delayed over alleged inappropriate communication with Jill Kelley, the woman who initiated an FBI investigation that ultimately led to the uncovering of Petraeus’ extramarital affair. A Pentagon official said the FBI had uncovered more than 20,000 pages of correspondence between Allen and Kelley, according to the Reuters and AFP news agencies.
Petraeus resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency last Friday, after National Intelligence Director James Clapper informed the White House of the general’s affair with Paula Broadwell, author of the 2012 Petraeus profile called “All In.”
Kelley had told an FBI friend that she was receiving harassing emails from an anonymous person, who accused her of pursuing Petraeus romantically. As a volunteer who helps military families in Tampa, Florida, Kelley and her husband befriended Petraeus during his tenure as the head of US Central Command, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Kelley’s FBI friend helped initiate a federal inquiry, which ultimately linked the emails to Broadwell. After obtaining access to Broadwell’s email account, investigators concluded she was having an affair with Petraeus, after they discovered sexual explicit correspondence with the general. Although investigators later found that no crime had been committed, there has been concern on Capitol Hill that the scandal could have somehow compromised classified information.
The scandal comes as the CIA, Defense Department and White House have come under growing scrutiny for the handling of the response to the September 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in that attack.
Petraeus, widely regarded as one of the most respected public servants in the US, was scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday regarding the role the CIA played in the response to the consulate attack. Allen’s nomination to lead the US European Command and become the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe was also originally scheduled to go before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Although investigators found classified documents on the computer Broadwell surrendered to authorities, both she and Petraeus denied that those documents had come from him. It’s still unclear what kind of information those documents contain. During a speech at the University of Denver in October, Broadwell also claimed that the Benghazi consulate attack was an attempt by the perpetrators to free Libyan militia members held in a CIA compound, called the annex, and suggested that Petraeus knew the militants were being held there.
Broadwell’s comments were later discredited by the CIA, which cited an executive order issued by President Obama in 2009 that forbade the agency from holding detainees, the consequence of Bush-era excesses. But the Denver speech has continued to fuel speculation not only that Broadwell may have somehow obtained classified information through her access to Petraeus, but also that the general’s resignation as CIA director was somehow related to the September 11 attack on the American consulate.
But Anthony Cordesman, the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, attributes the speculation surrounding the Benghazi incident largely to the partisan politics of an election season that is just now winding down.
“It has been a focus of really the pre-election effort to find some way to weaken the president’s lead in national security issues,” Cordesman told DW.
Prior to President Obama’s re-election victory, the Romney campaign and leading Republican figures sought to pin the death of Ambassador Stevens on the White House. The CIA had also become an increasing focus of scrutiny for its response to the incident.
“All the charges that the CIA had been held back, was not responsive, have been completely discredited,” Cordesman said. “It’s quite clear from the chronology of the events now that the agency became involved as soon as it could.”
“In short, this is really an effort to tie a political farce to an unfortunate scandal and the connection is zero,” he said.
The politically savvy general
Petraeus is the lionized general of the 2007 US troop surge in Iraq, the man who by many accounts pulled the American occupation and Iraq itself back from the brink of total implosion. Later tapped by the Obama administration in 2010 to save the mission in Afghanistan from failure, the general’s record there has been more mixed.
“His reputation as a military officer peaked just after the Iraq surge,” Stephen Biddle, an expert on US military strategy with George Washington University, told DW.
“His time in Afghanistan was less successful than his time in Iraq,” Biddle said. “In fact some people were struck that he accepted the Afghanistan assignment given that it was an opportunity to tarnish his legacy if the war didn’t turn out as well.”
Journalist Michael Hastings has presented a much more negative narrative of Petraeus’ celebrated career. Hastings was the author of the 2010 Rolling Stone piece that forced General Stanley McChrystal to resign his post as the top US officer in Afghanistan over critical remarks about the Obama administration. Petraeus ultimately took over that position from McChrystal.
Hastings has long characterized Petraeus not so much as a masterful military mind, but instead as a politically savvy media spinster, a man who knows how to shape civilian perceptions of America’s wars in the Mideast and Central Asia.
“On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called ‘surge,’ he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in recent American history,” Hastings wrote in a recent piece on the news website BuzzFeed. “He convinced the entire Washington establishment that we won the war.”
The fallen intelligence chief
The reasons why Petraeus ultimately retired from the military to take on the top job at the CIA remains a subject of speculation. Petraeus, who had been close to President Bush, reportedly had a tense relationship with President Obama initially. The general and the president had disagreed in the past over the manpower and resources that should be invested in the surge in Afghanistan.
According to military expert Biddle, the all-star general had actually been keen on becoming the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, America’s top military post. But offering him the job at the CIA not only matched his skill set – it also may have been politically convenient.