Exit David Petraeus

David Petraeus

I am curiously torn about David Petraeus, who just resigned his post as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after admitting to an affair with another woman. This is not standard operating procedure in American political life. Usually, it is preceded by a sleazy denial, which nobody believes. And then there is an onslaught from the media, who troll for salacious details damaging to everyone involved, their families and friends.

No, either the General is a compulsive truth-teller or he is afraid of being blackmailed. Let me see, are there any compulsive truth-tellers in the military or political arenas? I suspect not. It’s too radical an idea for now.

As I said at the outset, I am of two minds about Petraeus. On one hand, he was appointed by George W. Bush, which immediately made me suspect him at the outset. At the same time, he is probably the most effective U.S. military leader since World War II. He reminds me of another general, some sixteen hundred years ago, who administered a decisive defeat to Attila the Hun at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in A.D. 451. Flavius Aetius (396-454) was called “The Last of the Romans” for his victory.

Could Petraeus have won in Iraq and Afghanistan? I doubt it, because the enemy is hydra-headed. There are so many warlords and involved parties that, when one was beheaded, others would spring up. Remember when we killed the head of Al Qaida in Iraq? That didn’t accomplish anything in the long run. He was simply replaced. There are plenty more cockroaches-in-waiting to assume the job.

Edward Gibbon called Aetius “the man universally celebrated as the terror of Barbarians and the support of the Republic.”

In general, our times keep reminding me of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Today’s Los Angeles Times predicted that the Chinese economy would overtake us within four years. Oh horrors! (Not that it matters: By then China will be a polluted, smoking ruin from ignoring certain simple responsibilities of governance.) What with global climate change and the staggering world economy, there is an end-times feel to the decade. Not that we won’t somehow prevail in the end by dumb luck or changing our behavior.

Men like David Petraeus are rare in our society. Too bad.