by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
At some point the prurient angle of the Petraeus story that alone enticed a reluctant media into becoming tangentially interested in Benghazi-gate — in the way the deaths of four Americans never did — will die down. Then we are left with largely three unanswered questions of far greater importance that will probably not be answered.
Question No. 1: Who exactly in the administration knew of Petraeus’s private problems prior to the election, and what exactly did they do about it, or communicate about it, and to whom, including possibly Petraeus himself? As it is now, it is absolutely impossible to believe that if Eric Holder was told, he did not tell the president; or that Mr. Clapper was the only senior administration official to know of the investigations of these indiscretions. Yet, apparently we are asked to believe just that?
Question No. 2: Did Petraeus’s assessments, some given to Congress, some made public, accurately reflect the circumstances of Benghazi’s real-time request for help and the post facto explanations of spontaneous 9/11 demonstrations over a video gone wild with mortars and machine guns? As it is now, there seems a discrepancy between later official CIA and administration accounts — and what a few in the media are reporting about the actual attacks, and what those on the ground communicated at the time to the CIA. All that too must be fully reconciled.
Question No. 3: Why did Petraeus, after such a long gestation, choose to resign 72 hours after the election on a Friday afternoon? Someone, perhaps Petraeus himself, wished Petraeus gone quickly after, but not before, the election.
If these questions are not answered, then one is not necessarily a conspiracy theorist to legitimately wish answers. And it is incumbent upon both the Congress and the administration to give those answers.
Otherwise the general public will understandably wonder whether some people in the administration, at least by autumn, might have let Petraeus or others know that they knew of the FBI probe of his own private, but potentially embarrassing affair — which, given Petraeus’s sterling reputation, was of quite singular ramifications for the CIA, the administration’s stature in an election year, and the general reputation of the US abroad.
And fairly or not, such preliminary investigations and communications may have been interpreted at some point, accurately or not, by Petraeus as implicit pressure. While the conditions of him remaining in office may not yet have reached critical mass in the late summer and fall, there might have been implicit suggestions that in the future CIA should better synchronize with administration narratives about ongoing intelligence activities, perhaps even before, but especially during, the Libyan tragedy. Or barring all that, Petraeus may just have concluded that such knowledge by others of his private life had the potential at some point to prove compromising to his own freedom of action at the CIA that was sometimes at odds with the White House.
And if true, then at some point Petraeus may have sensed that he could not be fully independent in his views and assessments, given that third parties could at any time adjudicate his future, by leaking publicly heretofore strictly personal details about his private life.
And, again, if true, he may have thought it the best course both not to use such a crisis to affect the election by resigning in spectacular fashion in early November, but on the other hand, felt the moral implications of having his fate in others’ hands were far more serious than the horrific damage to his own family and career that would follow such revelations — and thus he resigned how and when he did (even though in other conditions, he would have been quite willing to stay on, with the knowledge that his private relationships were properly his own and should not affect his tenure).
However, anyone in these circumstances would also be advised that any future testimony had the potential to be at odds with past testimonies and statements, which might argue for a darker scenario in which after the election someone in the administration felt that Petraeus could now safely resign and fade quietly into retirement — all of which makes the role of any future statements by Ms. Broadwell quite dynamic. There are all sorts of different speculations, but the above is perhaps the most generous explanation we are hearing and reading and it must be dispelled by the Congress and administration as quickly as possible. It does no good simply to cry “conspiracy theorist” when these speculations are natural and logical.
There are all sorts of important ramifications: from the proper role of the FBI stealthily examining the private e-mails of top officers, to the issue of what exactly does the FBI do with the results of these probes and who oversees its findings, to the coordination of the State Department, administration, and CIA — and of course, most importantly, the question of why and how did our government put Americans in unsafe conditions, refuse pleas for increased security, not lend assistance in extremis, and then mislead the country about the circumstances of their deaths — and why were so many Americans in Libya in the first place and what were they doing that was worth putting them in such grave danger and from whom?
Finally, all this is not so to say that those involved will not successfully cite the “fog of war,” “the best information at the time,” “I can’t quite recall, given the fast-moving events on the ground,” “I was not aware of that information,” or that the media will not rally to defend an administration bit by supposed conspiracy theorists and partisan mosquitoes.
©2012 Victor Davis Hanson