The decline and fall of King David Petraeus

The decline and fall of King David Petraeus November 11, 2012

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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7 responses to “The decline and fall of King David Petraeus”

  1. Journalists should ask the tough questions, mollie, but the questions you pose can be answered within an ethical but non-religious framework. Should religion be brought into the picture, it would be apt to look at which religious groups believe that killing is acceptable and under what circumstances, which do not and why. and the religious composition of the military, from the top down. Ours is an all-volunteer army; our troops choose to serve without coercion.

  2. Considering how some in government who are not shrinking violets when it comes to military force (like Sen. McCain), it certainly points out the negligence of the MSM in not raising more demands for a vigorous debate over the use of drones that are apparently killing many innocent people.
    Just because Islamists and Jihadists are only too willing to kill innocent people to acheive their goals doesn’t mean we should follow in their footsteps.
    I can’t help but wonder if ignoring such a debate is more of the media protecting P. Obama from any kind of political backlash from any of his decisions.

  3. “Just because Islamists and Jihadists are only too willing to kill innocent people to acheive their goals doesn’t mean we should follow in their footsteps.”

    Why not? Unlike them we aren’t trying to kill civilians. They jut get in the way. If we thought like this in WWI and WWII we would have lost that first war. One bomb dropped on one city of nothing more than civilians that killed more than drones have come close to won the second war. I am sick of these “precision” wars that do nothing more than drag out victory or keep it from coming. If you go in then you go all in, or you don’t go to war at all.

  4. There actually was a strong debate during WWII in the upper echelons of both the British military and the American military about the wisdom and morality of bombing cities where so many civilians lived. But because the war was ongoing the stories of these debates did not go public for the most part until after the war. Not only did some top military men oppose some of the bombing for moral reasons, but some believed that what was termed “terror bombing” wasn’t doing any good overall anyway.
    Some recent books on the bombing of Dresden, Germany in WWII get into some of the debate.

  5. Note: one of the excellent books on this topic and debate is “Dresden: Tuesday Feb. 13, 1945” by historian Frederick Taylor.

  6. The problem with the David and Bathsheba reference is that scripture never says she was a willing partner; it’s only Biblical tradition that shies away from calling King David a rapist.

  7. The “King David” allusion could take on deeper resonance when you think about the CIA and the drones. David saw Bathsheba because he wasn’t campaigning when he was supposed to be. That would be a good jumping off point for articles about the morality of drone warfare and the thought of “P4” requesting more of them while frolicking safe in Washington.