Wash­ing­ton's re­venge

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - M.J. Ak­bar

WHEN Abra­ham Lin­coln was told at the height of the dev­as­tat­ing Civil War that his most suc­cess­ful gen­eral, Ulysses Grant, was drink­ing too much he wanted to know the brand of Grant's favourite whisky so that he could send his gen­eral a few cases. Eight decades later, dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, ru­mour was rife that Dwight Eisen­hower, com­man­der of the Euro­pean the­atre of op­er­a­tions, was hav­ing an af­fair with the lady who drove his car. Censorship en­sured that this never es­caped the con­fines of co­terie gos­sip.

The Amer­i­can sys­tem, sen­si­bly, might not care too much about peace­time gen­er­als but it pro­tected its wartime com­man­ders. Grant and Eisen­hower went on to be­come elected pres­i­dents.

Class-con­scious Bri­tain went a step fur­ther: it pro­tected its losers as well, apart from of­fer­ing huge fi­nan­cial bonuses to suc­cess­ful gen­er­als, not to men­tion the oc­ca­sional el­e­va­tion to prime min­is­ter to heroes like Welling­ton.

Lord Corn­wal­lis was not pun­ished for los­ing the Amer­i­can colonies to Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton; he was sent off to In­dia to fight the French. Lord Wavell messed up the African front in the Sec­ond World War, turn­ing Churchill apoplec­tic. Wavell was given a soft land­ing in Delhi as viceroy. If Amer­ica has a mod­ern war hero then it is surely David Pe­traeus, who was not only good at his job but also ful­filled Napoleon's cri­te­rion: he was lucky as well.

He pulled Amer­ica out of the Iraq quag­mire just enough to save face, and was ac­claimed for leav­ing Afghanistan bet­ter than he found it. Per­haps his pre­de­ces­sors de­served much of the credit, but Pe­traeus was in the right place at the right time, and who can ar­gue with that?

Al­though he was a Ge­orge Bush gen- eral, Barack Obama co-opted him into his team. Republicans pro­moted him as a fu­ture party nom­i­nee for the White House, and cyn­ics have noted that this might have been one of the rea­sons why Obama made him CIA chief af­ter his Afghan tour.

Such was the paucity of tal­ent in Repub­li­can ranks in 2012 that Pe­traeus just might have won the nom­i­na­tion this year, and then who knows who might have been sit­ting in the White House to­day.

In­stead, Pe­traeus has been forced to re­sign af­ter a de­layed reve­la­tion of an af­fair with his bi­og­ra­pher, Paula Broad­well, a scalp-hunter who clearly wrote this adu­la­tory book for rea­sons quite dif­fer­ent than a love of writ­ing.

There is a strong Pu­ri­tan streak in Amer­ica which de­mands stan­dards of sex­ual pro­bity among its politi­cians that would rid Europe of al­most all its se­nior politi­cians, ex­cept per­haps An­gela Merkel of Ger­many; and even the saintly Merkel had posters in her last cam­paign that em­pha­sised her hand­some cleav­age.

No Amer­i­can woman politi­cian could af­ford to do that, al­though Amer­ica is con­sumed by a par­al­lel pruri­ent ap­petite for sex­ual junk at a mass-con­sump­tion level. But Pe­traeus was not run­ning for pub­lic of­fice.

His af­fair ended four months ago. Nor was it much of a se­cret when it was hap­pen­ing, since young Paula was seen more of­ten in his com­pany than his wife of 37 years.

There is much mys­tery about the 'jeal­ousy' emails from an­other woman with ties to Amer­i­can agen­cies that led to this 'ex­po­sure'. It ex­ploded in pub­lic just af­ter Obama was re-elected, or when he had be­come in­vul­ner­a­ble to this mess.

The of­fi­cial story is that Obama had no clue about the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion that un­did Pe­traeus. It is hard to be­lieve that the pres­i­dent was not in­formed that his CIA chief had be­come a po­ten­tial se­cu­rity risk at the start of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, not at its end.

There re­mains the Agatha Christie in any mys­tery: who gains from the death of a rep­u­ta­tion? Barack Obama. Pe­traeus was too iconic a fig­ure to be sacked.

He had to be out­ma­noeu­vred, at the right mo­ment. His mis­take could have been cov­ered up, or even par­doned, since he had left the army, and CIA chiefs have more lee­way than army chiefs. But Pe­traeus' de­par­ture de­flects an im­me­di­ate prob­lem in ad­di­tion to wound­ing any long-term po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions he might en­ter­tain.

The murder of Amer­i­can am­bas­sador Christo­pher Stevens in a CIA safe­house

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