Thursday, November 15, 2012

Petraeus' Secret Weapon: The Apology

See this recent BBC News report in which I argue that Petraeus delivered a lethal strike to his detractors by issuing his "preemptive apology":
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20318194

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fight for the Right to Party

 
It has proven oddly disconcerting to learn that the man charged with guarding our national security secrets has a few secrets of his own—though why we should be surprised that a guy who runs a spy agency gets off on deception is beyond me.  

Of course, any time a sex scandal erupts, it’s worth asking why we get so worked up about the private lives of public officials.  And at what cost?  Just imagine all the other things you might have done this Veteran’s Day if you hadn't spent so much time marveling at Paula Broadwell’s upper body tone.

In this case, we may tell ourselves the public's interest in Petraeus’ private life is more than prurient—national security is on the line.  Because even if intelligence-laden pillow talk doesn't get ordinary civilians like you and me going, who knows what a CIA chief embedded with his biographer will let slip when he’s “all in”?

Well, we all may be worried about the security ramifications of the Petraeus affair, but you know who isn’t?  The FBI.  Officials in that organization insist they were right to keep mum for so long because they found no evidence that Broadwell gained access to classified information.  No big surprise here, I suppose—I mean, what with all the unauthorized wire-tapping going on over there, those guys wouldn’t get a wink of sleep if they had to report every inappropriate relationship involving a government official (let alone the rest of us) to the proper authorities.  

Still, now that the affair has gone public, many are wondering whether the FBI made the right call in withholding information about Petraeus' affair from the White House for as long as it did.  But at least for the time being, the FBI has its story and they're sticking to it: a private affair is a private matter unless proven otherwise.

Apparently, others in the intelligence community agree.  According to a CNN report on Monday:

A senior U.S. intelligence official said an extramarital affair by a CIA officer is not automatically considered a security violation.

"It depends on the circumstances," the official said.
Ah yes, the circumstances.  Because now that we’ve learned the identity of the woman whose complaint launched the FBI probe in the first place, we see just what a difference context makes—at least to those in the national security biz. The mystery woman turns out to be 37-year-old Jill Kelley, who holds a position as “unpaid social liaison” at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home of the military’s Special Operations Command.  The fact that Ms. Kelley was named “honorary ambassador” to the base in recognition of her as-yet vaguely understood social services suggests to me that engaging in extramarital sex may be regarded more as an entitlement than an embarrassment in those circles.

And so in the end, the most revealing aspect of all of this may be what it indicates about the mental state of those who break rules for a living.  David Petraeus lives in a world in which the end justifies the means.  Soldiers go to war to kill bad guys...so that the innocent may live in peace.  Spies lie, cheat and deceive...so that truth, justice and the American way may prevail.  The FBI violates our privacy with warrantless wiretaps...so that we may enjoy the blessings of freedom.  No wonder David Petraeus thought he could get away with it. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hail to the Husband-in-Chief?


Those of us on the sex scandal beat rarely get a break.  Seasons change; years roll by; the parade of sex scandals marches on.  That is, until this general election season, which has been the quietest I can remember for scandal-watchers.  And I’m not just talking about full-on, pants-down scandal fodder—this election season, the only tendency towards excess I could detect in either of the lead candidates was a propensity for cringe-worthy, over-the-top paeans to marital bliss.

And that got me wondering: since when did the presidential race become a contest for Husband-in-Chief? 

Call me cynical, but I’m not convinced the recent emphasis on husbandly devotion reflects some newfound national maturity.  No, I’m more inclined to think it emanates in the remarkable fact that this general election pitted a Black man against a Mormon—that is, two men dogged by longstanding and deeply rooted images of hypersexualized masculinity associated with their backgrounds. 

While the typical male candidate proudly asserts his virility as an emblem of presidential mettle, this time things were different.  As ever, each man was expected to prove his manliness to prove he could be president.  But in this case, the candidates had to do so in the face of often-unspoken but ever-present racist and otherwise prejudicial assumptions about the sexual cultures associated with Black men on the one hand, and Mormonism (with its historic embrace of polygamy) on the other.  Given these persistent stereotypes, it’s unlikely either of these candidates would have survived without an impeccable record of marital conduct.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m delighted we were deprived of the normal scandal fare this election season (lord knows, we should have gone on this diet long ago).  But maybe the real lesson here is that sometimes the absence of sex scandals can have as much to do with messed-up cultural understandings of masculinity as do their presence.