Last Friday, David Petraeus resigned his directorship of the CIA, following a public revelation of his extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, bringing into question what part he will play in the investigation of the September 11, 2012,embassy attacks.
The decision has naturally sparked a flurry of rumors and speculation, much of it marked with suspicion. A number of observers have asserted the retired four-star general stepped down as part of a coordinated cover-up intended to block investigation into the September attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of four American citizens. Others question why the scandal came to light only after the presidential election. A number of Republicans have called for Petraeus to testify regardless of his decision to resign, with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)opining it is “essential” that Petraeus do so.
Ignoring for a moment the more sensational theories surrounding the resignation, as well as counter-claims that the Republican response is a calculated attempt to impeach President Obama, the senator’s statements hold merit. As one of the country’s premier intelligence officials before, during, and after Benghazi, Petraeus may be able to answer many of the pressing questions that remain in its wake. These questions include:
1) Did the intelligence community have reason to suspect U.S. embassies would be at risk? If so, why did they fail to act?
2) How much of the failure was due to a lack of actionable intelligence? How much to inadequate analysis?How much to good old-fashioned bureaucracy?
3) Is it reasonable to expect that the intelligence community could have prevented the attacks, given the resources available to them at the time?
4) How did the CIA come to its premature assessment that the attacks were in response to the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims?
5) Why did it take so long for the U.S. government to mount a response to the attacks?
Piecing together a coherent understanding of just what happened will take time and effort, and Petraeus may prove to be the keystone to that puzzle. If he does elect to testify, however, it will be equally essential that politics be divorced from the proceedings. There is widespread sentiment that the handling of Benghazi reflects poorly on President Obama, and critics of the administration have been quick to dismantle the fiasco for ammunition without waiting for the full facts to appear. Likewise, the furor surrounding Petraeus’s marital indiscretions cannot have bearing on the validity of any testimony he may make, regardless of how convenient it may be to write him off as an embarrassment.
As yet, the specifics of what actually happened in Benghazi have yet to be revealed, but any investigation must be methodical and precise. There is no room for partisan posturing, only facts, else we risk further obscuring what is already a murky issue.