What is All This For?

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?

It’s certainly not there for General Petraeus to have a sexual dalliance with Paula Broadwell, but then again, that in and of itself is their business and that of their spouses and children who now know about the affair.  But it gets much harder for us to avert our eyes from the other characters in this drama, starting with Jill Kelley, who calls herself an ambassador, and seems to have some official or semi-official, but unpaid position, as a liaison between Lebanese and other Middle Eastern military officials, and the US military high command stationed in Tampa, Florida.  Is this really how important military business is done in the United States?  What sort of security clearance did this woman undergo before assuming this assignment?  She and her husband have had ongoing financial problems, have had nine lawsuits filed against them, and there is an issue surrounding a charity they set up that they promptly closed, after it spent all of its income on travel and entertainment for Jill Kelley and her husband.  None of this would be known if Jill Kelley herself did not decide to open up her life to a friend she had in the FBI, when she complained that Paula Broadwell was sending her intimidating and harassing emails.  That led the FBI to poke around in Paula Broadwell’s emails, which led to the discovery of her affair with David Petraeus, which led to his resignation as head of the CIA, which has now all circled back to Jill Kelley again when the FBI discovered she has been in email correspondence, to the tune of 200 to 300 messages, with General John Allen, who is in charge of all US military operations in Afghanistan and has just been nominated for promotion as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.  The FBI describes some of these emails as “inappropriate communications.”

These are two of the men, along with a few others in the high command, who are in charge of an annual $1,000,000,000,000 military budget for the US.  This budget used to be only $400,000,000,000 back in 2000 and before 9/11, when the taxpayer spigot was opened wide to the defense establishment so that another 9/11 could never happen again.  Let’s set aside the fact that 9/11 was considered “blowback” for American military incursions against Islamic countries in the 1980s and 1990s  – the sort of activity America is doing once again, but on a much larger scale.  We’ll set it aside because we don’t have any choice – we have to give the US military the benefit of the doubt, because we the American public know nothing about what goes on in the military.  What we do know is what we are led to believe, not just by the sycophantic press and the subservient Congress, but by the millions of dollars spent annually by the military on public relations, including having people on staff to monitor all things said publicly by anyone about the military, and even to join in on discussion forums on the internet to speak up for the military, “correct misconceptions”, and make sure Americans continue to feel shamed if they don’t utter the words “thank you for your service” every time they meet a soldier, sailor, or marine.

When an organization as massive and with the global reach of the US military is allowed to operate for years – decades, even – without any effective oversight, in almost complete darkness, with no accountability, and surrounded by subservient and obsequious politicians and press – then the odds are extremely high that the organization has succumbed to corruption.  Not just financial corruption, which quite likely exists on a scale that would be too difficult to comprehend – like the $1,000,000,000 in shrink-wrapped $100 notes that vanished in the sands of Iraq at the start of the 2003 invasion –  but corruption of the soul.  A corruption which allows men in high positions to see themselves as gods, unrestrained by normal moral considerations.  A corruption which allows the organization to avert its eyes from strategic and tactical failures, because the commander involved has beguiled the media into treating him like the reincarnation of Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.  A corruption which allows the military to sneak the bodies of dead Americans into a Delaware air base in the dark of night so that the public will be “spared” the trauma of facing up to the human cost of its misadventures in the Middle East.  A corruption which allows the military to cozy-up to right-wing “think tanks”, and evangelical ministers, and then hide the fact that rapes of women recruits are both frequent and frequently covered up.  A corruption which allows the high command to sweep under the rug the revelations from the Boston Globe that retired generals and admirals are routinely given lucrative consulting jobs with the military, and then allowed to sit on military procurement commissions deciding on defense contracts with the very companies these men represent as paid lobbyists.

Perhaps the heaviest investment, and its most important, that the military has ever made, is in its public image.  It is this image which gives the military its invulnerability from oversight or any public review of its actual workings.  Such an image would hold up to unexpected public scrutiny if the business of the military was conducted with the honor, efficiency, true ability to defend the United States, and careful stewardship of taxpayer money that the military insists is the reality behind all the curtains that shroud its behavior.  But the likelihood of this being the case is slim.  Time and again, the United States has learned that from the 1980s and onwards, corruption has infested all major institutions – corporate boardrooms, the media, the world of sports, the Catholic priesthood, the halls of Congress, and the halls of academia.  Why should the military, with vastly more dollars at stake, and with far greater means of hiding malfeasance and corruption, be exempt from these temptations?

This is the real meaning to the Petraeus scandal.  It is not his misbehavior on a personal basis that matters – it is the hint it provides to misbehavior in so many other ways among his colleagues and quite possibly thousands of employees, defense contractors, lobbyists, elected representatives, and media.  If this is indeed the case, then the image the military projects is nothing more than a façade, which can come crashing down overnight, especially if the public begins to ask the question: What is all this for?



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Numerian is a devoted author and poster on The Agonist, specializing in business, finance, the global economy, and politics. In real life he goes by the non-nom de plume of Garrett Glass and hides out in Oak Park, IL, where he spends time writing novels on early Christianity (and an occasional tract on God and religion). You can follow his writing career on his website, jehoshuathebook.com.

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • A little long, but great post! To me, this scandal shows how foolish it is deify the military. The military people I have known in my long life have been among the most immoral, dishonest and vile I have ever met. Choosing to be a mercenary doesn’t qualify you for sainthood.

  • I “served” for three years in the behind the lines sex, drugs and rock’n roll party that was the US Army between 1969 to 1971. I was drafted but bought my way out of the combat infantry in VietNam with an extra year. Back in the “heimat” (sounds better in the original German), the corruption was more opaque, but out on freedom’s frontier on the overseas bases it was OTT.
    Joseph Heller’s described it perfectly in Catch 22. The insanity, the perversion of patriotism, honor and duty to personal ends, the corruption. And then there are the poor suckers out on point getting their shit blown away.
    Of course, it’s always been like this…since the Sumerians and Babylonians.

  • Deification of the military is certainly nothing new and it is usually instigated by high commanders who surround themselves with sycophants. The press used to be a check against such idolatry, but is now part of the PR crew. In my own time, Douglas Macarthur particularly comes to mind as the epitome of hero-worship and I remember the fallout when Truman relieved him of command for actions bordering on insubordination.

    From a personal POV, I spent 3+ years in the USAFSS (Intelligence) and while I saw a lot of incompetence and adolescent behavior (we had the highest VD and Drunk/Disorderly rate in the USAF), I saw neither corruption nor the dehumanizing aspects of the military. I imagine this was largely because we were non-combantants and probably better educated and a bit smarter than the average dogface. On the other hand, I have been pretty close to vets from WWII, Korea and Vietnam. It always struck me that the ones most damaged by the carnage were the ones who were the most decent human beings to begin with. Those who went into the military as bullies took the the military life like ducks to water – it gave their worst instincts free rein. It probably operated similarly at the command level: those predisposed to a sense of entitlement, weaned on privilege, raised amid the corruption of cronyism naturally carried that mindset with them and used the mechanisms of the military structure accordingly.

    I would make the point that they are really no different from like-minded people who go into business or politics and build their own ‘kingdoms’, complete with staff, PR hacks, captive press. The difference is that the Koch brothers et al cannot convincingly present themselves as heroes (except to a handful of delusional Teabaggers), whereas generals can always wrap themselves in the flag and Joe the Plumber can’t see the real man behind the flag/curtain.

  • I Was David Petraeus’s Bitch in the 90s and I Hated Every Second of It – By Duncan Larkin

    I’ve detested Petraeus for a long, long time. I’ve tried writing about him for a decade, but nobody seemed to listen. He was bulletproof back then—not so anymore. Now’s the time for me to tell you all about this self-serving shithead and what it was like being his bitch for years.

    Back in 1996, I was a starry-eyed West Point lieutenant in the storied 82nd Airborne Division. I had just graduated from Ranger School and the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was my new home—my first assignment. I loved the Army back then.

    When I showed up for duty, our brigade commander was a reasonable guy named John Abizaid. Morale was decent under him, because each battalion in the brigade was pretty much left alone. Colonel Abizaid let us solve our own problems. We were all competent adults and his laid-back, hands-off leadership style made us feel important and trusted.

    But after a few months, Abizaid left and in came “Mr. Burns.”

    Mr. Burns was our nickname for Petraeus, who was only a colonel back then. We called him that, in case it’s not obvious, because he looked and acted like the wiry, hand-rubbing villain in The Simpsons.

    After Petraeus showed up, my life and the life of every soldier under his command went to complete shit. Back then, the ever-calculating Petraeus, who had married the West Point superintendent’s daughter after graduating, was on his way up. The general’s star was within reach—he was only one rank away—and being in command of the “Devil Brigade” (our brigade), was absolutely vital to getting him there. During his tenure with the 504th, he had to kiss and lick as many hairy, hemorrhoidal assholes as possible. He had to guffaw and slap all the right backs; he had to seriously impress. He had to do whatever was necessary to reach the pinnacle. No bridge too far for that son of a bitch. Can do. Will do. Yes sir, whatever you want, sir.

  • Great post, Numerian. I recently read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about psychopathology of this sort. Here’s the link:


    It’s long, but you can see how these kind of people are put together and how ordinary people could learn to be this way. I was deeply troubled when I read this.

    Two more perspectives on the Petraeus thing from Stephen Walt:




    • BC Nurse Prof,
      My initial reaction was: an affair? So what, who cares? … I was shocked only because something is being done about it and that is a red flag. As if powerful people having an affair with some groupie is unusual. Professional athletes, and I know one really well, will tell you that there is a constant external pressure, call it ‘opportunity’ to partake in whatever you want. We can be sure that everyone around the principals involved is aware of their indiscretions. They are taking out Petraeus for a reason.

  • Petraeus sex scandal prompts laughter among Taliban

    Raw Story (via AFP) November 15

    The sex scandal that has brought down CIA chief David Petraeus may be causing heartache in the Washington security establishment but the affair has prompted laughter among the Taliban.


    A stony-faced Taliban official burst into laughter at the mention of the Petraeus affair during an interview with AFP in northwest Pakistan this week.

    “What a bastard! But all Americans are the same, it’s nothing new,” the official said, who did not want to be named.


    “From a Pashtun point of view, Petraeus should be shot by relatives from his mistress’s family,” the Taliban official explained.

    “From a sharia point of view, he should be stoned to death.”

    More at the link

  • With top brass under scrutiny, Pentagon chief orders ethics review

    Reuters, By Bill Stewart, November 15

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered the U.S. military’s top brass to look for any gaps in ethics training as he lamented lapses in judgment by officers that could “erode public confidence in our leadership,” a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday.

    Questions over the conduct of U.S. generals has come into sharp focus over the past week as retired General David Petraeus lost his job as CIA director over an affair and General John Allen, who leads the Afghan war effort, was placed under investigation for potentially inappropriate emails with a Florida socialite.

    A Pentagon spokesman told reporters traveling with Panetta in Thailand that development of the defense secretary’s initiative pre-dated the latest scandals.

    Lesser-known U.S. military leaders have come under scrutiny recently, with one general demoted by Panetta for wasting taxpayer money and another facing accusations including forcible sodomy of a subordinate.

    “The vast majority of our senior officers takes this responsibility (of leadership) seriously and acts in accord with ethics regulations and training,” Panetta said in a memo to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

    “Yet, as has happened recently, when lapses occur, they have the potential to erode public confidence in our leadership. … Worse, they can be detrimental to the execution of our mission to defend the American people.”

    More at the link

  • Right on Numerian…, write on.

    They tell me that Eisenhower warned us of the “military industrial complex”. You’ll have to look it up…, I wasn’t there. But last week they held a “veterans day” ceremony out at the job…, asking all the vets to submit their names…, they didn’t know who we were. I didn’t submit my name…, and didn’t attend the ceremony. I have very mixed and ambiguous feelings about that. I know that they weren’t really trying to support the war…, they just wanted to honor the men who served. I guess Jackson Browne said it best in “Lives in the Balance”:


    They sell us the president the same way
    They sell us our clothes and our cars
    They sell us every thing from youth to religion
    The same time they sell us our wars
    I want to know who the men in the shadows are
    I want to hear somebody asking them why
    They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
    But they’re never the ones to fight or to die

    What’s All This For?…, you ask. It’s all about keeping “the economy going”. It’s not the best investment in stimulus that we have…, but it’s about the only one at this point. The question to ask is, “How far will we push it?”

    <a href="http://scottrthequillayutecowboy.blogspot.com/">The Quilleyute Cowboy

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