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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Media Lashes Back In Support of Petraeus!

In addition to Richard Cohen and John Prados (see my previous posts here and here), Dana Milbank ("Petraeus’s affair was no ‘scandal’"), David Ignatius ("The Petraeus affair’s resulting witch hunt"), and Fred Hiatt ("A scandal we can’t love") have all weighed in on the side of "it was just sex, this is all overblown."  And that's just the Washington Post.

As always, when the weight of opinion starts to turn against me, I sit back and reevaluate.  Was I wrong to criticize Cohen and Prados for dismissing the affair as "just sex"?  Was I wrong to ridicule Prados for calling it a "witch-hunt" when Ignatius has now called it a "witch-hunt" in his title?

No.

All of these people are still missing the point.

We can all agree that it is a shame that the country has lost the services of such a capable leader as Petraeus, and might lose those of the equally-capable Allen.  We can also all agree that it is a shame that such impressive records of service are being tarnished. We're not just talking the kind of "public service" that Congresspeople pat themselves on the back for doing; we're talking military service -- the most honorable and most demanding kind of public service that any citizen can offer his or her country (well, it's demanding at least until you're in a position to order up an 28-cop motorcade to take you to a party).

So we can agree it's a shame.  These guys have done a lot for our country, and could do a lot more, and we need guys like that in those important positions.

We can also agree that at this point, the only truly "culpable" fact that we the public know about is the admitted sex between Broadwell and Petraeus.  And so far that's just been admitted to have occurred after Petraeus's military service.

We can even agree that if that is TRULY all that occurred, then all of these columnists are perfectly right -- Petraeus should not have been made to resign.

So the questions then become "who is speculating here?", and given that both sides are speculating, what should the "default" position be -- i.e. whose speculation is irresponsible?

I'm speculating because I say there is likely to be more there.  And the columnists are speculating because they assume that there is no more there.  But the difference is (1) that I admit that I am speculating (on the theory that where there is smoke there is fire), whereas (2) they assume that the "record" as we know it is all there is (if all we know about for sure is the smoke, then we shouldn't assume there is a fire).

In a way, it's a question about whose conduct we want to speculate about.  Are we going to speculate that Clapper -- also a highly respected military man -- would abruptly fire Petraeus on the basis of some post-service extramarital nooky?  Is that really fair to Clapper?  Or can we, based on inferences about Clapper's conduct (not to mention that of Petraeus in resigning, and Obama in accepting the resignation), speculate that perhaps the admitted adulterer Petraeus was somehow culpable for more than just the adultery?

My evidence is admittedly inferential.  I don't think Clapper would have told Petraeus to resign, or that Petraeus would have resigned, or that Obama would have accepted his resignation, if all that happened was that Petraeus happened to have post-military sex with his hot, adoring biographer.  If that's all that the FBI investigation had turned up, I think there's a strong chance that we the public wouldn't even have gotten the whiff of the scandal we did -- i.e. Petraeus would not have been asked to resign, would not have resigned, and there would be no story.

My evidence as to Allen is also inferential.  There are 20,000 pages of email that Allen has seen, but which I haven't seen.  All I know is that the word "sweetheart" is in them, and that they might be "potentially inappropriate."  And Allen hasn't resigned yet.

Given that my position allows for the possibility that if all there is is smoke, and no fire, then Petraeus and Allen should not have to suffer, and the country should not lose their services, my position is the more reasonable one.  In other words, I'm NOT saying Clapper was right to fire Petraeus.  I'm just saying we don't know that yet, and until we know it's silly to go around saying that he shouldn't have been fired just for the sex.

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