Posted Nov 11, 2012 5:43pm EST
The fraud that General David Petraeus perpetrated on America started
many years before the general seduced Paula Broadwell, a lower-ranking
officer 20 years his junior, after meeting her on a campus visit to
More so than any other leading military figure,
Petraeus’ entire philosophy has been based on hiding the truth, on
deception, on building a false image. “Perception” is key, he wrote in
his 1987 Princeton dissertation: "What policymakers believe to have
taken place in any particular case is what matters — more than what
Yes, it’s not what actually happens that matters — it’s what you can convince the public it thinks happened.
this weekend, Petraeus had been incredibly successful in making the
public think he was a man of great integrity and honor, among other
things. Most of the stories written about him fall under what we hacks
in the media like to call “a blow job." Vanity Fair. The New Yorker. The New York Times. The Washington Post. Time. Newsweek.
In total, all the profiles, stage-managed and controlled by the
Pentagon’s multimillion dollar public relations apparatus, built up an
unrealistic and superhuman myth around the general that, in the end, did
not do Petraeus or the public any favors. Ironically, despite all the
media fellating, our esteemed and sex-obsessed press somehow missed the
actual blow job.
Before I lay out the Petraeus counter-narrative —
a narrative intentionally ignored by most of the Pentagon press and
national security reporters, for reasons I’ll soon explain — let me say
this about the man once known as King David, General Betray-Us, or P4,
by his admirers, his enemies, and his fellow service members,
respectively. He’s an impressive guy, a highly motivated individual, a
world-class bullshit artist, a fitness addict, and a man who spent more
time in shitty places over the past 10 years than almost any other
American serving his or her country has. I've covered him for seven
years now, and he’ll always have my respect and twisted admiration.
it’s fair to say that P4 probably deserves something a little better
than the public humiliation he’s about to endure. Sources who long
feared him have already begun to leak salacious details; one told me
this weekend that he took Broadwell along with him on a
government-funded trip to Paris in July 2011. And questions about his
role in the Benghazi debacle are also likely to deepen.
Broadwell, too, is about to get slandered in a way no woman deserves.
She’s the Pentagon’s Monica Lewinksy — and, despite Team Petraeus’ much
advertised lip service to courage and integrity, it didn’t take long for
his allies to swarm the press with anonymous quotes smearing the West
Point graduate and married mother of two: that she wore “tight clothes,”
as The Washington Post reported, or that she had her “claws in him.” In other words, how could Old Dave have resisted that slut’s charms?
Pretty shitty behavior, all around. As Petraeus ally and counterinsurgency scholar Dr. Andrew Exum might put it, stay classy!
the warning signs about Petraeus’ core dishonesty have been around for
years. Here's a brief summary: We can start with the persistent
questions critics have raised about his Bronze Star for Valor. Or that,
in 2004, during the middle of a presidential election, Petraeus wrote an
op-ed in The Washington Post supporting President Bush and
saying that the Iraq policy was working. The policy wasn’t working, but
Bush repaid the general’s political advocacy by giving him the top job
in the war three years later.
There’s his war record in Iraq,
starting when he headed up the Iraqi security force training program in
2004. He’s more or less skated on that, including all the weapons he
lost, the insane corruption, and the fact that he essentially armed and
trained what later became known as “Iraqi death squads.” 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. He convinced the
entire Washington establishment that we won the war.
He did it
by papering over what the surge actually was: We took the Shiites' side
in a civil war, armed them to the teeth, and suckered the Sunnis into
thinking we’d help them out too. It was a brutal enterprise — over 800
Americans died during the surge, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis
lost their lives during a sectarian conflict that Petraeus’ policies
fueled. Then he popped smoke and left the members of the Sunni Awakening
to fend for themselves. A journalist friend told me a story of an
Awakening member, exiled in Amman, whom Petraeus personally assured he
would never abandon. The former insurgent had a picture of Petraeus on
his wall, but was a little hurt that the general no longer returned his
MoveOn may have been ill-advised to attack the general as
"Betray Us" in Washington, but there was little doubt that many in the
Awakening felt betrayed.
Petraeus was so convincing on Baghdad
that he manipulated President Obama into trying the same thing in Kabul.
In Afghanistan, he first underhandedly pushed the White House into
escalating the war in September 2009 (calling up columnists to “box” the
president in) and waged a full-on leak campaign to undermine the White
House policy process. Petraeus famously warned his staff that the White
House was “fucking” with the wrong guy.
The doomed Afghanistan
surge would come back to bite him in the ass, however. A year after
getting the war he wanted, P4 got stuck having to fight it himself.
After Petraeus frenemy General Stanley McChrystal got fired for trashing
the White House in a story I published in Rolling Stone, the warrior-scholar had to deploy yet again.
Afghan war was a loser, always was, and always would be — Petraeus made
horrible deals with guys like Abdul Razzik and the other Afghan
gangsters and killed a bunch of people who didn’t need to be killed. And
none of it mattered, or made a dent in his reputation. This was the
tour where Broadwell joined him at headquarters, and it’s not so
shocking that he’d need to find some solace, somewhere, to get that
daily horror show out of his mind.
How did Petraeus get away with all this for so long? Well, his first
affair — and one that matters so much more than the fact that he was
sleeping with a female or two — was with the media.
record: Who really cares whom P4 is sleeping with? The idea that the FBI
was investigating his sex life says more about the FBI and our absurd surveillance and national security state
than it does about King David’s morality.)
Petraeus’ first biographer, former U.S. News and World Report
reporter Linda Robinson, wrote a book about him, then went to CENTCOM
to work for him. Yes — a so-called journalist published a book about
him, then started getting a paycheck from him soon after. This went
largely unremarked upon.
Another huge supporter was Tom Ricks, a former Washington Post
journalist who found a second career as unofficial press agent for the
general and his friends. Ricks is the ringleader of what I like to call
“the media-military industrial complex,” setting the standard for its
incestuous everyday corruption. He not only built Dave up, he
facilitated the disastrous liaison between Broadwell and Petraeus. Ricks
helped get Broadwell a literary agent, a six-figure book deal, and a
Broadwell was sold to publishers as much for her looks
as what she was writing — she was an attractive package to push
Petraeus and his counterinsurgency ideas. Little, Brown editor Geoff
Shandler once told me how “hot” he thought Broadwell was after she came
in to meet him at his office, and indicated to me that Broadwell had
made him somewhat aroused. Intellectual integrity all around, to be
Ricks blurbed her in All In
, and earlier had promoted her content on his blog — the oddly titled Travels With Paula,
a headline he slapped to a story about the U.S. military’s total
destruction of a small village in southern Afghanistan. Broadwell
described the ultra-violent wipeout in favorable terms — and when she
was confronted with an angry villager whose house had been destroyed,
she wrote that the Afghan’s tears and anger were a “a fit of theatrics.”
This was the kind of bullshit Ricks and Broadwell had been
pushing — and it not only wasn’t called bullshit, it was embraced as
serious work. Ricks wasn’t the only offender, of course — Petraeus more
or less had journalists from many major media outlets slurping from the
Pentagon’s gravy train. The typical route was to have all the cash and
favors funneled through a third party like the Center for a New American
CNAS was a Petraeus-inspired operation from its
inception in 2007, and it made its reputation promoting Petraeus’
counterinsurgency plans. No problem, right? Except that it put the
journalists who were covering those same plans and policies on its
payroll. For instance, New York Times Pentagon correspondent Thom
Shanker took money and a position from CNAS and still covered the
Pentagon; Robert Kaplan, David Cloud from the Los Angeles Times,
and others produced a small library’s worth of hagiographies while
sharing office space at CNAS with retired generals whom they’d regularly
quote in their stories.
But Petraeus’ crash is more significant
than the latest nonsense sex scandal. As President Obama says, our
decade of war is coming to an end. The reputations of the men who were
intimately involved in these years of foreign misadventure, where we
tortured and supported torture, armed death squads, conducted nightly
assassinations, killed innocents, and enabled corruption on an
unbelievable scale, lie in tatters. McChrystal, Caldwell, and now
Petraeus — the era of the celebrity general is over. Everyone is paying
for their sins. (And before we should shed too many tears for the plight
of King David and his men, remember, they’ll be taken care of with
speaking fees and corporate board memberships, rewarded as instant
millionaires by the same defense establishment they served so well.)
Dave fell for Paula, we fell for Dave. He tried to convince us that
heroes aren’t human. They are human, like us, and sometimes worse.