Apparently, Representative Peter King (R-NY) is a man with a lot of questions for General David Petraeus. Since Friday, when the general resigned following revelations of a scandalous affair with author and national security analyst Paula Broadwell, the media has been brimming with inquiries. King is no exception, and on Sunday the representative released a list of queries about the incident:
• Did the FBI have a warrant to intercept the CIA director’s personal emails for months, even though he was not accused of official misconduct?
• Why were salacious details from Petraeus’ emails not “minimized,” as in any lawful wiretap? And who is leaking them to the press now?
• When, and by whom, was Petraeus first informed of the investigation?
• Why did the FBI reportedly not notify the White House of this explosive investigation for months? And why then do so the day after the election?
• Why didn’t the FBI inform congressional intelligence oversight committees of any investigation involving the CIA director?
Leaving no doubt as to his intention, King further claims that it is “implausible” that the Obama administration would monitor Petraeus without Congress’s knowledge, and cites the general’s political ambitions, and possible knowledge of the situation in Benghazi, as reasons why such an investigation would come to the public’s attention right now. The implication is clear: the Obama administration is targeting Petraeus to prevent his appearance before the House intelligence committee.
Is the Petraeus debacle a "smoking gun" for the Benghazi attack, as other right-wing critics such as Ben Shapiro allege? Or is a case of unfortunate timing, exacerbated by political pressure and an administration which was never really too comfortable with having a Bush protégé occupying one of the nation’s highest security posts?
Watching the story unfold, it’s hard not to feel a small amount of vindication; General Petraeus has first and foremost always had the admiration of the press. Wired mentions that “Petraeus is not used to being thrown under the bus.” BuzzFeed writer Michael Hasting spits more furiously, claiming “most of the stories written about him fall under what we hacks in the media call ‘a blow job,’” flattering, lowball coverage which bolstered the Pentagon’s image and portrayed General Petraeus as a military fix-it man. He sold the 2007 troop surge in Iraq as the responsible solution to the country’s internecine violence, although the strategy consisted of little more than “[taking] the Shiites’ side in a civil war, arming them to the teeth, and [suckering] the Sunnis into thinking we’d help them out too.” The result was that leaders in the legislative branch were convinced the war was winnable, extending the War in Iraq meaninglessly.
As Politico emphasizes, the General’s track record on dishonesty and service as a right-wing hatchet man go back to 2004, when he wrote op-eds in favor of the Bush strategy in Iraq (how did that end up working out?) as well as when Petraeus coasted by on his supervision of the nascent Iraqi security force. This program, dubbed the Multi-National Security Transition Command, was so badly mismanaged that the Washington Post estimated in 2007 that roughly 30% of the weapons provided to the force were missing.
Much of Petraeus’s career was spent pontificating in favor of, propping up, or outright directing the sprawling, wasteful, and immoral military apparatus in Iraq, a war that turned into a national nightmare for both Americans and Iraqis.
Returning to the questions posed by King: Almost certainly this is just part of the house cleaning that comes with a second-term administration, not a cover-up of the Benghazi attack. There’s no conspiracy; Petraeus is merely a scapegoat, doubtless with countless political enemies in the Obama administration. After such a safe election, the Obama administration finds itself a wide mandate to recreate the political and military apparatus. Petraeus, affair or not, could have been a likely candidate for the chopping block. Bad timing was the axeman.
So, there’s no "cover-up" in a major, headache-inducing public announcement by the Obama administration. Calling this a cover-up insults the memory of Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair.
This incident highlights a more pressing political problem, however: the relatively free reign the American military apparatus enjoys. The Pentagon seems immune to political pressure; in spite of his budget-hawk rhetoric, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged to increase military spending to 4% of GDP. Despite the looming fiscal cliff, it seems like most of the plans to deal with it entail modest defense spending cuts — despite our staggering military spending of $711 billion a year (more than the next 13 countries combined). Trumping up Petraeus was one way the military apparatus kept the public misinformed and the dough flowing.
Yes, there are questions for Petraeus to answer. But I feel that they’re not the ones King is asking.