The decline and fall of King David Petraeus

Even by Friday night news dumps, this one was a doozie. David Petraeus resigned on Friday afternoon for reasons related to adultery. Which led Joyce Carol Oates to tweet:

Don’t understand why “adultery” is quasi-illlegal in a nation in which church & state are separate….

…..the ugly word “bastard” has been phased out of usage & next should come “adultery” with its Biblical rectitude & cruelty.

How we treat our spouses and how honest we are about our liaisons are interesting ethical discussions. I was intrigued by this New York Times piece about the self-destruction. It mentioned an interesting Biblical reference:

“P4,” as he was called for the four stars he earned, was viewed with respect — but often grudging respect. His celebrity brought positive attention to an all-volunteer force that at times struggled to meet recruitment numbers over a decade of grinding ground conflict. But that same publicity, and the fiercely ambitious man who pursued it, drew private criticism from some officers, who nicknamed him King David.

Biblical Echoes

As word of his resignation resounded across the Pentagon on Friday, more than one officer cited the biblical adultery of King David and Bathsheba.

I love the Biblical references if for no other reason than that when we report stories, people frequently use Biblical references that never make it into print. It’s hard to know how to put them in a story or what, in general, to do with them. But while I was happy to see the reference, I actually wish it would have been spelled out more.

We’ll see plenty more discussions about the ethical concerns related to Petraeus’ lack of rectitude (sorry, Ms. Oates). But I wish that the media were as interested in other aspects of CIA operations as the sex scandals (interesting though they may be).

I’ll take this opportunity to highlight this piece in The Economist about how Petraeus requested more drone capabilities in recent weeks. The article doesn’t shy away from the ethical issues, noting:

Because drones can loiter over potential targets for hours before firing their missiles, they are more discriminating than either fast jets or helicopter-borne special forces. Nor are their pilots put in harm’s way. Yet it is disturbingly unclear how many people the attacks have killed (some estimates suggest more than 3,000). The vast majority appear to have been militants, but some have been unlucky civilians. The distinction may also be blurring. New looser rules allow so-called “signature” attacks on unnamed fighters; that can easily mean any male of fighting age in an insurgent-held area…

But Kurt Volker, a former American official close to Senator John McCain, sees a bigger problem: drones have made killing too easy. In a recent article he asked: “What do we want to be as a nation? A country with a permanent kill list? A country where people go to the office, launch a few kill shots and get home in time for dinner? A country that instructs workers in high-tech operations centres to kill human beings on the far side of the planet because some government agency determined that those individuals are terrorists?” The debate over drones is only just starting.

It’s a start. Neither of the two presidential candidates seemed particularly interested in discussing ethical concerns of drone warfare during the campaign. The media frequently seem more interested in other topics as well. As the CIA moves toward increased drone killings, I wish the media would go ahead and ask some tough questions about their use.


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