The Legacy of Petraeus

The military and foreign policy isn’t normally my wheelhouse, but this David Petraeus thing is just irresistible. Today the Washington Post reports with some new, truly wretched details:

The collapse of the impressive career of CIA Director David H. Petraeus was triggered when a woman with whom he was having an affair sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him, according to three senior law enforcement officials with know­ledge of the episode.

The recipient of the e-mails was so frightened that she went to the FBI for protection and help tracking down the sender, according to the officials. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and a Petraeus biographer, and uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the officials said.

Petraeus was worshiped in Washington like perhaps no one else in the country. But with his shine definitely tarnished, it’s worth wondering what his legacy will be once the hagiography fades. After all, as Michael Hastings pointed out on MSNBC, he was responsible for a lot of questionable things:

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Let’s review Petraeus’ recent record: the surge in Iraq, which failed in most of its stated goals; the surge in Afghanistan, which also looks to have failed; and turning the CIA into a paramilitary organization which has assassinated American citizens (even a child) with no due process.

Now the two presidents are undoubtedly responsible for some of this as well, but to the extent that David Petraeus gets credit or blame for that record, he may not have such a great reputation in twenty years’ time, and I don’t think it will have much to do with his sordid affair.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman has a great piece about he got sucked into the cult of Petraeus.


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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at the Week. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the New Republic, and the Nation. He was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2012 to 2014.