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Debating the Fall of Petraeus
"Do we want to drive people like that out of government?" -- The Atlantic's Steve Clemons posed the question about General David Petraeus to a panel with NBC's Chuck Todd, Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson, Mother Jones' David Corn and Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings.
In the final session of the Washington Ideas Forum Thursday, the five journalists debated the necessity of Petraeus' resignation, and the larger implications for the intelligence community.
Hastings, whose article "The Runaway General" led to the resignation of General McChrystal in 2010, has long been critical of General Petraeus. His book, The Operators, details the Afghanistan war.
In a previous review of Paula Broadwell's biography of Petraeus, All In, Hastings said he thought the close relationship -- as far as it was known at the time -- between the two was inappropriate from a journalistic standpoint. However, such a close relationship wasn't unusual. "Broadwell represented this larger relationship that General Petraeus had with a lot of people in the media," he said.
That larger relationship often resulted in praise for the general, who had been depicted, Clemons said, as "the best general of a generation, a war hero ... the epitome of honor and duty and service." The disparity between the image, and the reality of infidelity caused a rift, Clemons posited, that Petraeus may have thought he couldn't overcome. "That may be harder to live with than if he was just another general that we didn't know so much about," he said.
Todd suggested that the elevated image came not only from the general himself but from an American public that demands heroes. "We deify out military leaders so much because we're starved," Todd said. "Politicians are not heroes in America, and we're starved for role models, and I think that's where this comes from."
The panel wondered about the broader implications for the intelligence community, and whether further investigations would be launched. While the full fallout from the resignation of Petraeus is unknown, there are lessons that can be learned immediately, the said.
"The idea is that the generals are always pushing around presidents because they are such heroes," said Carlson, "Maybe with the demise of a couple of them, the civilians will be back in charge."
Corn's takeaway was more succinct. "Don't invite the FBI into your life unless absolutely necessary."