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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Latest Relevations Prove Me Right on Petraeus Firing

Actually, it's still too soon to prove me "right".  All I've said so far is that the firing was almost certainly about more than just the sex.  Sometime yesterday (I think after my post on the subject, or else I just missed it), the Washington Post ran a piece trying to explain how Paula Broadwell came to have classified material in her possession and on her computer.  Here's the meat of it:

"Petraeus aides and other high-ranking military officials were often tasked by Petraeus and other top commanders to provide military records and other documents to Paula Broadwell for her work as Petraeus’s biographer, former staff members and other officials told The Washington Post.

"Broadwell, a married Army reservist, frequently visited Petraeus in Afghanistan when he was in charge of the war there. She repeatedly sought records that she said Petraeus wanted her to have, according to the former staff members and officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is ongoing."

So it sounds like the aides are saying both that (1) Petraeus told them to give her classified material, and (2) that sometimes they gave it to her based on her assertion that Petraeus had told them to turn it over.

I'm not going to go on too much farther here because even after all of this I have a great amount of respect for General Petraeus.  But it does sound like he might have in the end fallen victim to the sense that he was above it all.  The Washington Post's article about the lavish lifestyles that generals enjoy gives one a sense of how this might have happened -- they are treated like gods within the military, and after a while, they might actually start to think that they deserve it.

[Aside:  There's a similar sense of entitlement among the very rich.  They are treated like gods (because everyone wants a piece of their money), and they start to believe they deserve their vast wealth and they bridle at paying any taxes on it at all.  As I've explained before (see, very few of the very rich actually deserve all of their wealth.  They have almost all benefited from the practice of "skimming" -- the ability to skim off relatively small fractions of the giant torrents of money that flow around the corporate world -- and there is no correlation between how much they are able to skim (which, although a mere fraction of the torrent, can be many millions or billions of dollars) and how much effort they put into "earning" it (much less how much societal good their particular method of "earning" money created).

It's not good for society when this sense of entitlement becomes entrenched -- society becomes an aristocracy, and fantasies about class warfare begin to simmer among those who have been left out.  End Aside.]

So here, apparently General Petraeus was assuming that the rules that govern access to classified material did not apply to him, or could be waived by him at will.  It's not an unreasonable position to take -- much of what is classified as "secret" just isn't all that "secret," or isn't all that important, and one would think that someone with such vast powers as Petraeus ought to be able to exercise some judgment as to whether a given situation might call for an exception to the rule. Still, the military can't function without rules and strict adherence to them, and those at the top need to model respect for those rules.  And since we're in the realm of situational ethics, I can't help pointing out that giving limited access to low-level classified information to a serious, detached biographer might be one thing, but giving it to your mistress or someone you are hoping to sleep with is quite another.

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