Pundit Tears for Petraeus’s Fall

Exclusive: Much of Official Washington is in mourning after David Petraeus admitted to an extramarital affair and resigned as head of the CIA. Top pundits were as smitten by the former four-star general as his mistress was, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

A day after the surprise announcement that CIA Director David Petraeus was resigning because of marital infidelity, the pundits continue to miss the supreme irony. None other than the head of the CIA (and former bemedaled four-star general) has become the first really big fish netted by the intrusive monitoring of the communications of American citizens implemented after 9/11.

It is unclear whether it is true that, according to initial reports, Petraeus’s alleged mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell, was caught trying to hack into his e-mail. What does seem clear is that the FBI discovered that she had “unusual access” (to borrow the delicate wording of this morning’s New York Times) to Petraeus during his time as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from July 2010 to July 2011. The potential for compromise of sensitive information is equally clear.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. (Photo credit: Aude)

Not surprisingly, Establishment pundits are disconsolate that their beloved David Petraeus has been brought down in such a tawdry way. They are already at work trying to salvage his legacy as the implementer of George W. Bush’s much-heralded “successful surge” in Iraq (even though the sacrifice of nearly 1,000 more dead U.S. soldiers did little more than provide a “decent interval” between Bush’s departure from office in 2009 and the final U.S. withdrawal/defeat at the end of 2011).

Among those lionizing/eulogizing Petraeus on the morning after his resignation was Washington Post columnist (and longtime CIA apologist) David Ignatius, who argued that Petraeus “achieved genuinely great things.” Ignatius’s lamented Petraeus’s admission of the extramarital affair with the poignancy you might find in a novel by Leo Tolstoy or Victor Hugo about an admirable but ill-fated hero.

Ignatius, too, was a writer who was embedded with Petraeus and was dazzled by his charm. Ignatius wrote that he “spent nearly three weeks traveling with [Petraeus] during his CENTOM assignment, and saw how he fused the political and military aspects of command, as he met with sheiks and presidents and intelligence chiefs, in a way that should have been captured in a textbook for future commanders.”

But Ignatius inadvertently acknowledged the futility of Petraeus’s approach to Bush’s wars. The Post columnist wrote: “For all Petraeus’s counter-insurgency doctrine, his Afghanistan command often appeared to be the equivalent of building on quicksand. No sooner were the Afghan forces ‘stood up’ than they would begin to slip away, back into the culture that was deeply, stubbornly resistant to outside pressure. In his last month in Kabul, Petraeus had all the tools of victory in hand except one, the Afghan people and institutions.”

So much for Petraeus’s “brilliant” counter-insurgency doctrine. He had all the tools except the Afghan people and institutions, the two requisites for winning a counter-insurgency war!

So What’s the Big Idea?

Ignatius adoringly adduces the following quote from Petraeus as proof of the ex-general’s acute vision: “As I see it, strategic leadership is fundamentally about big ideas, and, in particular, about four tasks connected with big ideas. First, of course, you have to get the big ideas right, you have to determine the right overarching concepts and intellectual underpinnings to accomplish your organization’s mission.

“Second, you have to communicate the big ideas effectively through the breadth and depth of the organization. Third, you have to oversee the implementation of the big ideas. And fourth, and finally, you have to capture lessons from the implementation of the big ideas, so that you can refine the overarching concepts and repeat the overall process.”

Got that? That’s probably right out of Petraeus’s PhD dissertation at Princeton, or from a how-to book that might be called “Management Rhetoric for Dummies.”

If only Petraeus and his colleague generals remembered the smaller but far more relevant ideas inculcated in all of us Army officers in Infantry School at Fort Benning in the early Sixties. This is what I recall from memory regarding what an infantry officer needed to do before launching an operation big or small division or squad size.

Corny (and gratuitous) as it may sound, we were taught that the absolute requirement was to do an “Estimate of the Situation” that included the following key factors: Enemy strength, numbers and weapons; Enemy disposition, where are they?; Terrain; Weather; and Lines of communication and supply (LOCS). In other words, we were trained to take into account those “little ideas,” like facts and feasibility that, if ignored, could turn the “big ideas” into a March of Folly that would get a lot of people killed for no good reason.

Could it be that they stopped teaching these fundamentals as Petraeus went through West Point and Benning several years later? Did military history no longer include the futile efforts of imperial armies to avoid falling into the “graveyard of empires” in Afghanistan?

What about those LOCS?  When you can’t get there from here, is it really a good idea to send troops and armaments the length of Pakistan and then over the Hindu Kush? And does anyone know how much that kind of adventure might end up costing?

To Army officers schooled in the basics, it was VERY hard to understand why the top Army leadership persuaded President Barack Obama to double down, twice, in reinforcing troops for a fool’s errand. And let’s face it, unless you posit that the generals and the neoconservative strategic “experts” at Brookings and AEI were clueless, the doubling down was not only dumb but unconscionable.

Small wonder all the talk about “long war” and Petraeus’s glib prediction that our grandchildren will still be fighting the kind of wars in which he impressed the likes of David Ignatius.

As commander in Afghanistan, Petraeus was able to elbow the substantive intelligence analysts in Washington off to the sidelines. What might those analysts have said about LOCS, or about the key point of training the Afghan army and police? We don’t know for sure, but it is a safe bet those analysts who know something about Afghanistan (and, better still, about Vietnam) would have rolled their eyes and wished Gen. Westmoreland oops, I mean Petraeus good luck.

As for winning hearts and minds, it was Petraeus who shocked Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s aides by claiming that Afghan parents might have burned their own children in order to blame the casualties on U.S. military operations.

And the same Petraeus eagerly increased the incredibly myopic drone strikes in Pakistan, killing thousands of civilian “militants” and creating thousands more to contend with in the “long war” now alienating a nuclear-armed country of 185 million people.

Good Riddance

If, by now, you get the idea that I think David Petraeus is a charlatan (and I am not referring to sexual escapades), you would be correct. The next question, however, is his replacement and whether the policies will change.

Mr. President, with the mandate you have just won, you have a golden chance to reverse the March of Folly in Afghanistan. You can select a person with a proven record of integrity and courage to speak truth, without fear or favor, and with savvy and experience in matters of State and Defense.

There are still some very good people with integrity and courage around former Ambassador Chas Freeman would be an excellent candidate. Go ahead, Mr. President. Show that you can stand up to the Israel lobby that succeeded in getting Freeman ousted on March 10, 2009, after just six hours on the job as Director of the National Intelligence Council.

And there are still some genuine experts around to help you enlist Afghanistan’s neighbors in an effort to ease U.S. troop withdrawal well before the 2014 deadline. The faux experts the neocon specialists at Brookings, AEI and elsewhere have had their chance. For God’s sake, take away their White House visiting badges at once.

Create White House badges for genuine experts like former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East Paul Pillar, former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, and military historian and practitioner Andrew Bacevich (Lt. Col., USA, ret.). These are straight-shooters; they have no interest in “long wars”; they will tell you the truth; all you need do is listen.

Do NOT listen this time to the likes of your counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, a former CIA functionary who was staff director for CIA Director George “slam-dunk” Tenet. Brennan will probably push for you to nominate Petraeus’s deputy and now Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who did the same dirty work for Tenet that Brennan did.

Morell is even more likely to take his cues from Brennan and tell you what he and Brennan want you to hear. At best, Morell is likely to let things drift until you move on Petraeus’s replacement. And this is no time for drift.

There is absolutely no reason to prolong the agony in Afghanistan until the end of 2014. Doubling down on Afghanistan might have seemed a smart political move at the time, but you now should face the fact that it was a major blunder. Troops out now!

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the early Sixties, and then as a CIA analyst for 27 years. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

31 comments for “Pundit Tears for Petraeus’s Fall

  1. Tobe Wiser
    November 15, 2012 at 14:50

    Thank you FBI, great job–keep it up; please also flush out the real criminals behind 9II!!!

  2. Tobe Wiser
    November 15, 2012 at 14:28

    Paula (Kranz) Broadwell is an Israeli operative using her body to get the info for her poppa land. Using woman to manipulate and infiltrate the powerful is an ancient sham. Again, Israel ain’t no friend of ours and it’s high time we wake up to their crap.

  3. Hugh Beaumont
    November 13, 2012 at 14:52

    Mr. McGovern, you really are a card. Your article is much too civilized to have any effect upon the hawks. From the beginning this has always appeared to me to be a combination of a looting operation and a blood/sex orgy. Reason? Reverence for life? C’mon! That stuff only works with human beings.

  4. TofuFighter
    November 13, 2012 at 12:50

    Ray McGovern, i am curious what your wife will have to say when you get home and explain how marriage is the “small things”. Of course I totally believe you’re a straight-up guy who never stepped out, so you have every right to have that stone in your hand.
    That aside, while i believe in many of the causes that you do, it looks to me that you’ve become just a populist rabble-rouser. The antithesis of exactly the populist drivel you rabble-rouse against, and no less dangerous.

  5. johnb747b
    November 11, 2012 at 21:09

    Another great article, Ray.

    I’ve long thought of Petraeus as having a wildly inflated reputation as a soldier. I am amused by all those ribbons he wears. I suspect some of them could be for ‘stubbing his toe in the course of duty’.

    Good riddance to a man who tried to mix soldiery with politics. He’ll do ok on the speakers’ circuit for a year or two. The Tea Party, Rove, Petraeus, Romney… What a quadrella!

  6. David Evans
    November 11, 2012 at 20:56

    Some major implications of this and other such scandals that have generally been unrecognized:


  7. November 11, 2012 at 20:04

    Since we all trust Ray McGovern—let’s support his choice of Chas Freeman to replace Petraeus.
    If thousands of us shout together “We want Freeman”, perhaps President Barack Obama will do all he can to make
    our wish come true.

  8. nora king
    November 11, 2012 at 11:11

    One news source said that Major Pauls was a member of an FBI Counter-Terrorism Task Force, so the issue of how former was her relationship with the Bureau kind of hangs in the air. Wishywashy neutral relationships with the alphas at the Bureau seem impossible given her intensity. There is more here about her relationship with the FBI, not just with the General and his internet identitiy. It is reasonable to be concerned when a colleague goes rogue for a passion, like ambition or lust. Seems to me human nature dictates more care and discretion when investigating an expert in counter-terrorism cause she might just catch you watching and find some way to turn it around. Sex seems the least important factor in the lives of these folk, even if it cast the Shakespearean spotlight.

  9. charles sereno
    November 10, 2012 at 23:59

    Back down in the weeds. Where’s Borat, the other half of the dynamic duo?

  10. nora king
    November 10, 2012 at 20:41

    Major Paula Made a video the day before the election describing the Brass Ceiling oon a site called genconnectofficial which i know nothing about, but looks like a future leaders kind of thing. Postes on Nov 5, I wonder what the back story is on the timing.

  11. Peter Hockley
    November 10, 2012 at 20:25

    I can remember thinking when Bush2 invaded Afghanistan that he had not read his history! Mind you the prospect of him reading anything more complicated than that kids book he was reading when the planes hit The World Trade Centre, makes the mind boggle.
    We Brits lost Two Armies there in the 19thC, The Russians at least two in the 20thC. The Afghans are some of the best mountain troops in The World, and have been seeing off The Ferenghi since Alexander’s time! They’re are some of the most loyal and friendly people I’ve met in my travels, but cross them and they’ll hunt you and family down.
    To quote my Father “The CIA couldn’t find their own arses with both hands and a map”

  12. F. G. Sanford
    November 10, 2012 at 19:57

    About twenty years ago, I stood in a crowd of hundreds in a venue for military personnel, family members and some dignitaries as one of the Flag-Rank rising stars of the day gave a speech. At some point during his remarks, the officer halted as though he had been interrupted or offended, and ordered a young sailor, “You: stand up!” He proceeded to verbally humiliate this young man in the most deprecating terms, then ordered him to sit down and continued his speech. The points he made to the young man were apparently intended to cogently reinforce the overriding theme of his talk. Several of us got to discussing the episode later, reminded of that leadership truism: “Praise in public, admonish in private.” My boss at the time, a senior officer, asked me what I thought about the incident. He was not pleased with my response. I said, “The kid was a plant, the whole thing was a fraud, and The Admiral is a phony.” Many moons later, I watched with amusement as then General Petraeus “fainted” while testifying before Congress. By then, I was myself too senior to express any unfettered opinions. When asked, I thought for several moments, then answered as politically as I could: “You know, he reminds me an awful lot of Admiral Jeremy Boorda.”

    “Counterinsurgency” is one of those doctrines that has been exploited as a career enhancer by a lot of military people. It’s fundamental flaw, as proved so true in Viet Nam, is the idea that you can even identify who the enemy is. Walk down any street in Catania, Sicily, and you might pass a dozen “Mafiosi”. Then again, you might not pass any. But you’ll never know. It isn’t like they dress up in space suits or Halloween costumes. The Neocon leadership would have us believe otherwise, despite the obvious crushing defeats we have been handed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Regarding the four points outlined in the “strategy” that was implemented, I can’t help but hearken back to a ‘Four Point Plan’ that actually worked:
    1. “It’s effect must be aimed at the emotions, and to only a limited degree the so-called intellect.”
    2. “The target is the primitive intellect of the broad masses”.
    3. “Selectivity and repetition are everything”
    4. “It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

    Selling the “surge” as a strategy when in reality it is only a tactic, and a low-technology tactic at that, proves that the pundits “fell in love with the plan”, and still praise its merits long after the verdict on its failure is irrefutable. The successful plan I outlined above was lucidly contrived by a seething, driven misanthrope who had no illusions regarding the gullibility of his fellow man. It’s a formula that was outlined in 1919, and it still works, nearly a hundred years later. It’s a recipe for propaganda, and its author was none other than Adolf Hitler.

  13. Coleen Rowley
    November 10, 2012 at 19:53

    Here’s some more trivia to document Petraeus’ long history of climbing the ladder from a family member who was a cadet at West Point at the same time as Petraeus. He said other cadets remarked that Petraeus married the daughter of the “superintendent” at West Point in order to advance his career.

    Also I think you could have substituted “divine justice” for the “supreme irony” of Petraeus being the first big fish caught by all the “total information awareness” of “Top Secret America” that he helped institute after 9-11. What KARMA!!

    • David G
      November 12, 2012 at 11:54

      I read in, and learned from, the New York Times this weekend that Petraeus had married the daughter of the commanding general’s daughter while he was a West Point cadet, and immediately thought it was a hilariously telling bit of his biography, and one that had just as hilariously somehow been kept out of prominent media mention before now.

      How emblematic of the career of an ambitious little worm determined to transform himself into a great big moth.

  14. Hillary
    November 10, 2012 at 19:03

    Moderator once again rejected ?
    Spam Free WordPress rejected your comment because you did not enter the correct password or it was empty.

    Thanks Mr. McGovern for some truth.
    The sadness alas that real people must feel over the following
    “Much of Official Washington is in mourning David Petraeus”
    “successful surge”–“achieved genuinely great things.”
    ” admirable but ill-fated hero”
    ” our grandchildren will still be fightin”
    ” burned their own children in order to blame the casualties on U.S. military operations.”
    “Petraeus eagerly increased the incredibly myopic drone strikes in Pakistan”
    Yes indeed David Petraeus is yet another charlatan.
    How is it that the US worships their charlatan heroes so much and genuine heroes like former Ambassador Chas Freeman are rejected ?

    We all know but it dare not be said.

  15. leslie griffith
    November 10, 2012 at 17:38

    Insightful article. Lots to think about.

    Perhaps we should begin with “The Washington Post” and reporters who get so much of their information from “sources” tied to the Pentagon and C.I.A.

    Those of us outside the beltway often refer to The Post as “Pravda on the Potomac.”

    Like FOX news or MSNBC–the Washington Post bias is always there.

  16. gregorylkruse
    November 10, 2012 at 17:07

    What a great week! Karl Rove is a loser, and now so is Petraeus.

  17. incontinent reader
    November 10, 2012 at 14:42

    Ray- Great article and great recommendations to head the CIA.

  18. Eve Rosciam
    November 10, 2012 at 14:22

    Thank you Mr. McGovern for a well written truthful acoount of our military and the lack of genuine military expertise in preventing war, not starting them. Love your article and I appreciate it immensely. Your truth speaking and advice to President Obama actually made me feel good and gave me some hope. Hope Obama reads this article too.

  19. Jym Allyn
    November 10, 2012 at 14:04


    The pundit I am looking to hear apologize for Petraeus’ behavior is sex-addict, and former Clinton aide, Dick Morris. It would be one idiot desperately trying to find a rational excuse for the behavior of another idiot.

    As to Petraeus, my only “criticism” of your brilliant insight is that you failed to mention that NONE of the senior military commanders from the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Haliburton era seem to have ever read Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.”


    A cursory reading of the book would point out that you don’t “chose” to fight wars unless you know in advance that you can win them.

    One of my proudest moments as a father and former Army officer was to give my son a small pocket copy of Sun Tzu’s book prior to his National Guard unit going to Iraq. What made me feel good about my son’s wartime survival prospects was his sharing his discovery that virtually everyone one of the chain of command officers had at least one personal copy of Sun Tzu themselves. And I strongly suspect that my enlisted son having a copy of Sun Tzu likely enhanced his credibility among those officers and the promotions he received.

    Tragically, we still need to make sure that reading that book is a requirement for anyone working in the Pentagon.

    Thank you, Ray, for your insightful critique of Petraeus.

    PS. As I am typing, I am indulging in “comic relief” by listening to the trauma verbalized on Faux Nooz regarding the tragic loss of Petraeus’ “leadership.” Gullible Old Phools never seem to learn.

  20. Mike
    November 10, 2012 at 13:53

    It was pointed out by several family members who are career military officers at a rowdy family feast….that historically, the US has never won a war on foreign soil (lest we forget, it was Russia who took down Hitler) They admitted the bottom line: The US military is a bunch of yokels posing as super beings from Sparta when put in uniform at the behest of a few business men wanting to rape & pillage a nation’s resources. Then they rehashed the writings of Smedley Butler, a Marine hero who wrote the same after a lifetime of killing for a few business men’s personal gain.

    • db
      November 10, 2012 at 14:20


      “the US has never won a war on foreign soil” Tell that to the Japanese.

      • Winebox
        November 10, 2012 at 15:05

        And the Germans…..

      • Lydia Blanchard
        November 10, 2012 at 15:52

        We did not win World War II in the Pacific on Japanese soil. From the air we dropped on Japanese soil two bombs that were unconscionably dangerous to the whole world, whose fallout all still hold in our Earth, water, and lungs.

        Furthermore, after that war, the U.S. and Japan colluded in forming the “Atoms for Peace” program in Japan, resulting in General Electric’s faulty Mark I boiling water reactors that fell apart at Fukushima on March 11, 2011, as they all will worldwide in not-too-distant time.

        Reference: Cecile Pineda’s book, Devil’s Tango (2012, Wings Press)

    • rosemerry
      November 10, 2012 at 14:27

      Not only that! they claim to have won WW1 and WW2 but had no civilian casualties to deal with (sorry, six, yes six only, from WW2). Despite this and the number of US-led aggressive wars and invasions, there is fanatical overreaction to the so-called 9/11, whose victims were a tiny fraction of the number of citizens who die each year for lack of a real medical system.

    • Tobe Wiser
      November 15, 2012 at 14:35

      You call dropping a nuclear bomb on civilians winning a war–by this you stand to say that killing civilians, because the bomb was on civilians, is a war! Mike you’re an example of the exA

      • Tobe Wiser
        November 15, 2012 at 14:47

        You call dropping a nuclear bomb on civilians winning a war–by this you stand to say that killing civilians, because the bomb was a direct attack on civilians, is war! Mike you’re an example of the exact type of people the propagandist targets–the simple mind Simon-Says believers. The attack on Pearl Harbor was also “allowed” to happen to justify and anger Simon-Says Americans into full support of the war; the war was just the mechanism to test the end goal, testing the atomic bomb. In the game of warfare, a trigger must be set off to get the wheel rolling. The trigger was Pearl Harbor and the wheel was the atomic bomb. People who never studied warfare lack this understanding.

  21. charles sereno
    November 10, 2012 at 13:50

    There’s so much of use here, informed by real-life experience in upper levels of “the weeds.” What I also see, though, (and this applies to Bob Parry as well), is a forbearance toward President Obama that seems motivated more by hope than realism. I have the greatest respect for both these reporters and trust that they’ll keep digging.

    • Jym Allyn
      November 10, 2012 at 14:08

      charles sereno,

      What I strongly suspect is that Petraeus was responsible for the screw-up in Benghazi and that to have excoriated him before the election would have increased the animus of the neo-cons.

      The liquid on Petraeus’ samurai sword is not only semen, but blood from Benghazi.

      Obama is only being restrained and diplomatic.

    • spktruth200
      November 11, 2012 at 11:15

      Ray McGovern, you continue to be my hero! We know you tell the truth. Petraeus was responsible for thousands of american soldiers deaths (in the horrific surge), and he was neo con, who the republicans planned to run for Presidunce in 2016. Good riddance is absolutely right on.

      • Rosemary Molloy
        November 11, 2012 at 11:37

        It continues to be incredible to me the number of people who bewail “Americn deaths” and ignore the deaths of those we slaughter, including children. Oh, but they’re not quite as worthy of life, are they?

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