The Wrong Petraeus Scandal

The media blitz is fully engaged around the latest Washington sex scandals, and with it come nascent cheers from some anti-war sectors over the public unraveling of the top brass who have helped to orchestrate the longest war in U.S. history. On email threads and in the blogosphere, one is likely to view celebratory remarks laced with words like “comeuppance,” “karma,” and “justice.” Yet while it may be true that there’s a certain element of ironic remuneration in all of this, it’s also the case that such episodes can serve to draw our focus toward the wrong issues and the wrong scandals.

It isn’t the sexual dalliances of the power elite that merit our critical gaze, but rather the sadistic destruction of their everyday actions as architects of institutionalized, taxpayer-funded brutality. The real transgressions here are not crimes of passion, but crimes of war: massive civilian casualties, destruction of nations, bankrupting the domestic economy, torture and rendition, drones raining extrajudicial death from above. These are the reasons to bring down a demagogue; doing so under other pretenses threatens to cloud the issues, while a successor is hastily named to continue the war effort. It would be a worse scandal if we allow this to happen.

Only in America could such rabid sexual Puritanism combine with uncritical genocidal complicity. We seem to have a unique capacity to condemn more mundane forms of human lust even as we thoroughly exercise our collective bloodlust without much reflection or remorse. Does it really matter much if a general has a love affair or betrays his family, when the war policies he has helped to design and implement have destroyed countless families and fractured the bonds of love among people half a world away? Maybe we should care a bit less about who they’re screwing than how we’re all being screwed all the time.

In this light, we can surmise that politics surely plays a role in all of this. Perhaps this signals an effort to slowly downsize the military and hasten an end to the war without end. Maybe it’s part of a larger foreign policy shakeup that will become evident in the near future. Possibly there’s a strategic shift afoot to deemphasize hardware and prioritize software in the next generation of conflict. It could also be the case that such revelations are a way of reducing in rank those whose policies have failed to produce the promised results. But we should be having those substantive discussions rather than merely the salacious ones.

Granted, there’s a certain degree of delightful irony in all of this, as “war on terror” stalwarts get bitten by the very same post-9/11 surveillance apparatuses that were imposed on all of us under the pretext of catching terrorists. The ease by which electronic communications of all sorts are delivered to law enforcement by internet providers should give us great pause in a free society. Progressives and civil libertarians have long complained about the intrusiveness of such practices, and how they broach the leading edge of punishing people for “thought crimes” right out of authoritarian dystopias. In a perverse twist, we might even consider whether we should be defending the defrocked generals’ right to privacy.

In fact, by arguing against the Patriot Act and its progeny, at least we would move the dialogue closer to the actual issues at hand. The entire post-9/11 paradigm — preemptive action, perpetual warfare, unilateralism, secrecy and surveillance, unbridled executive authority, manipulation of fear — should be under close scrutiny more so than the titillating details of anyone’s personal indiscretions. Perhaps we could argue that the two are related, i.e., as concrete expressions of cavalier hubris and moral turpitude. But if so, that point needs to be put forth more incisively than is taking place in the gossip mill right now.

In the end, I don’t want to put a damper on the chortles of an anti-war contingent in desperate need of even a small victory after more than a decade (longer, really) under the dark clouds of escalating militarism. I get why a story like this resonates and even appears as a form of rough justice to many. Still, it seems to me that larger issues yet pervade, and that we would do well not to lose sight of them — lest we find ourselves (to borrow an unfortunate phrase) winning the battle but losing the war.

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is the Graduate Chair of Humanities at Prescott College. He serves as Executive Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and is the publisher and editor of New Clear Vision. Among his recent books are Anarchism Today (Praeger, 2012) and Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly, 2008).

More articles by:
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It