The Petraeus Affair is a hall of mirrors, full of so many distractions that the truth cannot be perceived. Nearly the entire pundit class is consumed with following the many titillating and alarming questions being raised. They are legitimate, but they are also distractions from a very, very big reality, that is so unpleasant that it requires a powerful and brave mind to see beyond them.
Fortunately, for those willing to listen, a truth-teller, who sees the underlying reality, no matter what the heck was going on among the Real Housewives of Centcom, is available to explain things. David Goldman, who also writes as Spengler in the Asia Times, has written an essential primer.
Start with his article in the Asia Times. Spengler pieces the veil of illusion around the figure at the center of it all:
It seems fitting that the director of Central Intelligence should be the first casualty of an election where both sides had more to lose than to gain by mentioning foreign policy. My admiration for General David Petraeus was grudging, but he was well-qualified for the job: a general who can manipulate his own masters can jerk the chains of foreign leaders as well.
Whether Petraeus' personal indiscretions required his resignation or President Barack Obama put paid to a Republican holdover is not yet clear. It doesn't matter much, for the screens are going dark in Washington. After four years of American strategic withdrawal, and a vast display of apathy from the voters, America is a diminishing factor in world affairs. Americans will learn of critical developments after the fact if at all, and its intelligence services will continue to devolve into a sort of Work Progress Administration for failed academics.
As I wrote in this space in May 2010, "Petraeus' surge of 2007-2008 drastically reduced the level of violence in Iraq by absorbing most of the available Sunni fighters into an American-financed militia, the 'Sons of Iraq', or Sunni Awakening. With American money, weapons and training, the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime have turned into a fighting force far more effective than the defunct dictator's state police."
It was a doubly clever stroke, winning with cash what could not be won with bullets. Aligning with the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime was the right approach (first advocated in 2004 by Marc Ericson on this web site - see Why Saddam's arrest did matter, Asia Times Online, January 24, 2004). Of course, it set the stage for an escalating civil war in the future. That is a defect in the policy only if its author expects something other than another iteration of violence.
Petraeus perpetrated a fraud by elevating this gambit into a counterinsurgency doctrine and accepting the accolades of grateful and relieved Republicans. Applied to Afghanistan, the doctrine failed miserably; the Taliban took the American money, like the Iraqi Sunnis, but - unlike the Iraqis - they continued to kill Americans.
Using the same clarity, Goldman explains at Asia Times and PJ Media the underlying problems:
After four years of strategic withdrawal, and the prospect of another four with the new "flexibility" that President Obama promised then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev over a mike accidentally left open last March, the world's secondary powers are left to their own devices. Every one of them will play a double game.
The screens are flickering out. Our intelligence services will not know what is happening, because no-one will perceive a need to tell them. There will be no penalty for ignoring the United States. We are flying blind, because we did not wish to see. I concluded:
Read both of these essays, and for those readers interested in the way the pundit class (including establishment conservatives) works to enforce taboos on inconvenient questions, pay attention to the PJ Media piece's discussion of the blowback faced by Spengler, Andrew McCarthy, and Diana West for telling the truth about Petraeus. Unsurprisingly, these truth tellers are still taking fire for telling the truth about other questions.
Meanwhile, Obama's fundamental transformation of America (in this case, into an impotent power) continues apace.