Finding The Scandal In The Petraeus Sex Scandal

by evanmcmurry

Amanda Marcotte has a good take on the Petraeus sex scandal, which is that it’s not particularly sexy nor particularly scandalous. “Sad Man Does Something Stupid” is her headline, and given the extent to which this story is chock-full of grown adults acting alternately like late-era Philip Roth characters or sixteen year olds drawing hearts on their notebooks, Marcotte’s headline is more fitting than the salacious treatment the story is getting elsewhere.

Still, following the old Michael Kinsley rule that the scandal is what’s legal, Glenn Greenwald points out that the BFD here is not the secret hanky-panky nonsense that brought Petreaus down, but the questionable military accomplishments that didn’t:

Second, it is truly remarkable what ends people’s careers in Washington – and what does not end them. As Hastings detailed in that interview, Petraeus has left a string of failures and even scandals behind him: a disastrous Iraqi training program, a worsening of the war in Afghanistan since he ran it, the attempt to convert the CIA into principally a para-military force, the series of misleading statements about the Benghazi attack and the revealed large CIA presence in Libya. To that one could add the constant killing of innocent people in the Muslim world without a whiff of due process, transparency or oversight.

…Instead, it takes a sex scandal – a revelation that he had carried on a perfectly legal extramarital affair – to force him from power. That is the warped world of Washington. Of all the heinous things the CIA does, the only one that seems to attract the notice or concern of our media is a banal sex scandal.

In short, the scandal isn’t that some ho-hum affair dethroned a previously untouchable general—it’s that the general was untouchable in the first place. As Scott Lemieux put it:

Particularly as the war dragged on, the “counterinsurgency” hype that justified the continuation of the wars seems to have become increasingly fraudulent. And yet the coverage of Petraeus by most of the mainstream American media was indistinguishable from the coverage offered by someone who was literally having sex with him.