It is tempting, oh so tempting, to unleash the snark as the script unfolds: Real Housewives of Tampa. Or is it Real Generals of Kabul?
But recent events are too sad for snark. With so much at stake, schadenfreude has taken a vacation. Here is what we know:
Retired Gen. David Petraeus abruptly quit his job as CIA chief when it be came clear that his long-running affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, would become public.
The investigation that turned up incriminating emails between Broadwell and Petraeus was spurred by Broadwell’s allegedly harassing emails to another woman, Jill Kelley in Tampa, whom Broadwell apparently viewed as a threat to her liaison.
A PowerPoint laser and a map would be helpful at this point. Next we learn that Kelley has had a lengthy, “potentially inappropriate” email exchange – between 20,000 and 30,000 pages (!!!) – with another four-star general, John Allen, the Marine who replaced Petraeus as the top commander in Afghanistan last year.
Meanwhile, the FBI investigator who was looking into Kelley’s complaints about harassing emails allegedly sent shirtless photos of himself to Kelley. If true, at least we can be grateful it was only his torso. The agent, who had not been identified at this writing, is now under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the internal-affairs arm of the FBI.
This is good soap opera, but bad everything else – and so sad for our country. What is wrong with these men? I know, I know. It takes two to tango. But when you’re head of the Central Intelligence Agency – or lead Americans in war – your tango matters more than her tango.
That’s all the snark I can muster. Otherwise, this seems like so much tabloid lather.
Is it really a national security matter that Petraeus apparently fell in love with someone not his wife? Maybe. If his paramour is a spy or a blabbermouth. Already, there are signals that Broadwell was talking out of school during an Oct. 26 speech in Denver, where she suggested that the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, were an attempt to free Libyan militants being held there by the CIA.
That would be a news item, wouldn’t it? The CIA denies it, given that President Obama ended CIA authority to detain prisoners, while critics wonder whether Broadwell might have had access to classified information.
This mess reads like a spy thriller with all the requisite components – sex, clandestine communications, high-ranking generals and the CIA, beautiful women, including the fittest cadet (Broadwell) at West Point. What a bonanza for the campaign weary. But what a horror for our self-respect and our standing in the world. How does one wage war against terrorists and peddle the Great American Experiment when we are so obviously flawed and out of control?
The end of this story may be less scintillating than it now appears. Perhaps it is nothing but a simple love story that got found out. But before we know what happened – and whether there is any legitimate concern about security breaches – we’ll hear plenty of spin from both sides of the political divide.
It is some consolation that the chair of the Senate intelligence committee calling for an investigation is a Democrat, Dianne Feinstein. This isn’t a Republican political attack on the president, in other words. Feinstein called “unacceptable” the blocking of a report detailing a trip Petraeus made to Benghazi weeks before his resignation.
The suspense will torture the insatiable, but matters so potentially grave – and so destructive in both personal and public ways – demand restraint on the part of the media. As more facts surface, others will be proven false. As rumors circulate, and tidbits of information are blown out of proportion, we should be wary of issuing judgments.
We can’t wait for the news because it’s the journalist’s job to uncover it. But we can and should wait for judgment. Let the investigations proceed. Let the facts be verified. Let these people survive the humiliations they are certain to suffer.
We are better than the mob – until we become one.
Contact Parker, a columnist for The Washington Post, at firstname.lastname@example.org.