Only a voyeur would experience any pleasure from contemplating General David Petraeus in flagrante delicto with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Which is why the Republican Party should be all over this scandal, given their predilection for stained blue skirts. Too bad Petraeus was one of their own – as recently as last year someone who was talked about as a Republican challenger to Barack Obama’s re-election. But that was last year; this year the Republicans are focused exclusively on tagging Obama with any possible hint of scandal, since they have failed at ejecting him from the Oval Office. Petraeus was just about to testify before Congress on what he knew about the Benghazi attack, offering to the Republicans a lingering hope that there might be some little thing of substance to the accusation that this was an administration cover-up, if not an outright murder of four US diplomats by the Obama administration. Now the Petraeus testimony will have to wait, because there is a potentially deeper scandal afoot, if not exactly the one Republicans are hoping to find.
As for the rest of us, we would just as soon draw the curtain on the non-marital concupiscence of General Petraeus for his loyal scribe. We prefer our heroes to be unsullied, their reputations unstained by personal, moral imperfections. Even the kings of France, on their nuptial nights when their wedding bed was surrounded by courtiers as witnesses, were allowed to have the bed curtains drawn. But there are other curtains to look behind here, and they don’t have to do with marital infidelity. Behind them lies a glimpse of the lifestyles of our most exalted military commanders, and further behind them lies even more extraordinary sights of military excess, of veritable orgies of wasteful spending, of over-hyped and under-performing counter-insurgency strategies, of cronyism run amok between the military and its corporate bedfellows, of a bought and paid for Congress, of an intimidated president and his administration, of a sycophantic media, and of a reverential and deferential American public. Then comes a third and final curtain, behind which we find bodies: hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis (almost all of them civilians), thousands more dead Afghanis, yet thousands more dead Pakistanis from impersonal drone aircraft, and then 4,000 dead Americans in Iraq, and 4,000 more dead Americans in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of dreadfully injured and maimed young American men and women, living a life of perpetual pain and complete dependence on others for their survival. And hovering over all these dead and injured people is the question: What For? Certainly not to protect America against people like Osama bin Laden, who was what is known as a non-state actor, engaging in “asymmetrical warfare”, which means he spent $200,000 and 20 men launching an audacious, murderous attack on 3,000 Americans, who when all was said and done could not be protected by the Department of Defense, its $400,000,000,000 budget (at the time), its massive arsenal exceeding that of the entire world’s armies combined, and its personnel force of 2,000,000 people. So what is all this for?