The salacious angle which the majority of the media has decided to take on the General Petraeus adultery scandal is lamentable. Here we have a situation where a panicky socialite, through an FBI acquaintance, put into motion an unjustified invasion of privacy. In the anonymous emails which were the catalyst for this whole ordeal, she was never explicitly threatened. Nor was it intimated that she was being followed. They were simply emails where someone else took issue with the way she carried herself. You know, “Who do you think you are?” sort of barbs. Because of that, her email records, those of General Petraeus, General Petraeus’s biographer, and perhaps General Allen’s were all broken into. This despite the fact that it is not against the law to send emails anonymously or to tell someone off. The only times these invasions of privacy should occur is when someone has a reasonable case for feeling threatened. The evidence so far does not appear to indicate that this situation qualified as such, and it definitely did not justify breaking into General Petraeus’s account.
I take issue with these invasions of privacy not because I am a supporter of General Petraeus, because I think his resignation is a good thing, but because it has become too easy in this country for government organizations to act with impunity and circumvent privacy laws. In a way, it is fitting that the out-of-control apparatus which General Petraeus helped to put in place has cost him his job and reputation. However, there were more legitimate reasons to have wanted his ass out that were largely ignored by the mainstream media. He was largely responsible for the troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, the arming of violent sectarian militias in Iraq, and the escalation of drone strikes which have killed hundreds if not over a thousand innocent civilians to date depending on the source (the tracking of the aftermath of these strikes is further complicated by the US policy to categorize all “military-aged” males hit by these strikes as enemy combatants). Furthermore, he should never have been considered to head the CIA so soon after commanding the forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The CIA is in a unique position to review and critique the efficacy of military operations. There is an obvious conflict of interest when the man who spearheaded the tactical approach in Iraq and Afghanistan becomes the boss of the largest independent intelligence-gathering agency in the US.
Ultimately, the lack of media coverage on these important issues is the fault of the American public. Much like the search for a trustworthy accountant to do our taxes without us having to stress over the complexities of tax law, we desire state officials, whether elected or appointed, that we can place our blind faith in. That is why people overemphasize any perceived moral failing. We do not want to wade in the filth and shit of international politics, economics, and what have you. It is easier to find someone that you trust and say, “Here you do it.” Unfortunately, unlike finding the maximum amount of tax benefit, there is no clear cut path, or sometimes even a well-defined goal, for many of the decisions which we entrust to these officials. Furthermore, it is that very complexity which makes it easier to justify decisions with bullshit, enabling actions which run counter to our values and outright corruption. The greatest check in our system of checks and balances is not any of our branches of government or even our vote, but our knowledge, which is sorely unbalanced. Until we realize that using intuition gathered from snippets and crafted talking points is an unreliable indicator of character and job performance, we will continue to overemphasize extramarital affairs, poor word usage, and unsubstantiated allegations because, quite frankly, we will be too ignorant to understand what a job well done entails.
For my part, I wouldn’t have cared much if General Petraeus took part in an orgy on his wedding anniversary while his wife sat home wistfully waiting for a call. If that was the worst thing he had ever done in his position, he would likely be a beacon of moral authority among men of his standing. Unfortunately, he has done way worse than betray his wife’s trust.