The windmill of Washington scandals

World and We
Sergey Strokan is a journalist, essayist and a poet. He is also a political commentator with Russia's “Kommersant” Publishing House. Mr. Strokan hosts “Red Line”, a weekly analytical program broadcast by The Voice of Russia in New York City. He is the author of three poetry collections, a winner of the Maximilian Voloshin International Literary Award (2010) and a member of Union of Russian Writers.
US President Barack Obama.(AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)
­Days after the US presidential election, the show goes on, while the plot and characters have changed. Now we are ...

­Days after the US presidential election, the show goes on, while the plot and characters have changed. Now we are titillated with the tawdry details of a major sex scandal, whacking the White House and collapsing the career of a man who was believed to be the best US military commander since Eisenhower.

The name of that man, whose face is everywhere and who is discussed and gossiped about thousands of miles away from US shores, is David Petraeus.

The most unexpected thing in the whole story is that the four-star general with years spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, at one point appointed to work out effective counterinsurgent strategy and save America from humiliating defeats from Islamic militants and Al-Qaeda, was dumped by America herself.

Dumped in an abrupt and, I would say, quite merciless and ruthless way. The unruffled general had to lay down his arms and quietly surrender to certain ethical norms or someone’s political will (choose whichever you find appropriate).

“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” wrote Petraeus, explaining his reason for submitting his resignation to President Obama. At that point he looked nothing other than devastated, degraded and miserable.

Every man, including someone in the upper echelons, can make a mistake and find the courage to publicly acknowledge the wrongdoing, being ready to pay the high price for it. However, when it comes to the relations between the sexes, full of private places and dark corners, things are not that easy. Sometimes things look quite contradictory and ambivalent.

In plain language, as it is not written into any Criminal Code (excluding Sharia Law with its “honor rapes”, lashing and stoning for adultery), the main thing is not what you’ve done, but how one would finally understand and interpret it. Centuries before the all-confusing situations, when it comes to the relations between sexes, were well described by the Kama Sutra, with its vague language.

To please all sides, the Kama Sutra would have put it something like this: “You should not commit adultery, but if you realize that the there is no way for you to escape it, here is the instruction on how you have to perform it.”

By no means do I want to say Petraeus, who looks like a regular womanizer, is innocent and should have not paid his price. However, I have strong doubts that it was really his free will to make public the secret love story with Paula Broadwell and to write such a self-immolating letter, which would not only kill his career, but ruin his marriage.

My hunch is that such a confession was not a voluntary act: most likely, Petraeus was cornered and forced to confess – contrary to his will. That is why, when he described his behavior as “extremely poor judgment,” I tend to believe that it was not what he really thought of himself, but what he wrote under enormous outside pressure, which he was able to withstand no more. Most likely, it was written on the instruction of superiors, whose orders are not questioned.

Several leaks in leading US media show the man who urged Petraeus to resign was his boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. What is extremely important is also the timing of the scandal – it broke hours after it became clear that Obama had won his second presidential ticket – but not before the election, with its neck-to-neck race and Obama’s razor-thin lead.

Obviously, there is no way to believe Clapper decided on the future of David Petraeus on his own – he had to inform the president and commander in chief and get his recommendations. So there is every reason to believe that Petraeus was disposed of by the Obama-Clapper duo.

One may ask, why? Was it a rational decision to dispose of not a bad – if not outstanding – general and behead the CIA when the US-led War on Terror is far from over? One week on, and the scandal has already involved the name of Gen. John Allen – David Petraeus’s successor in the position of US forces commander in Afghanistan. By now it is clear that the whole story has not a scent of two women involved – Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley – but the distinct smell of big politics with different spheres of influence in Washington behind-the-scenes fighting for dominance and winning President Obama’s ear in his second presidential term.

This is how things are done in Washington and here we come to the role of public scandals in US politics. Each administration in the White House, Republican or Democrat, has its own record of scandals, with a heavy mix of sex, corruption, embezzlements, etc. involving officials of all ranks. Sometimes, involving Presidents themselves (the long record from Watergate to Monicagate is etched in the history books). Yesterday it was Monica and Paula Jones, today it is another Paula – Paula Broadwell – and Jill Kelley. Tomorrow it will be someone else.

It looks like scandals are a driving force behind too many things in Washington to be extinguished as part of contemporary US political culture. First, the scandals grease and oil the very political process. Second, they entertain the public and make it feel one step closer to the “masters of the game” (an erroneous feeling). Third, they serve as bread-winners for the mass media, helping editors deliver news breaking stories (a rare commodity) to lift ratings and circulations.

As it turns out, the US scandal industry will never go bankrupt. The windmill of US scandals is even more powerful than the CIA. The windmill never stops and no one knows who the next victim milled into human flour will be. The scandal-addicted society is desperate for a dose, so it will find a way to get it.

Cost is never a concern.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.