DAVID PETRAEUS – NATIONAL HERO, MILITARY GENIUS, or WAR CRIMINAL?
Yesterday the former 4-Star General and CIA Director got a mild legal wrist slap rather than prison time. Unlike the principled and courageous CIA and NSA whistle-blowers who leaked damning classified materials to the public and ended up behind bars, Petraeus is making a fortune in the private sector trading on all his top-secret insider info some of which he leaked to his sultry biographer mistress resulting in his legal hassles. The clearly political deal to let him go with a token fine and rather meaningless probation once again shows how compromised and politicized the American court system actually is.
Earlier this month I had dinner with Petraeus. I sat right next to him for a few hours, able to listen him and observe him up close. Indeed it was a rare close encounter with someone from a kind of parallel universe. There can be no doubt Petraeus is a highly intelligent, amazingly energetic, super accomplished, and exceedingly knowledgeable uber man. He doesn’t really hide his extreme narcissism, rather he uses abundant well-practiced charm and authority to mask it.
To many Petraeus is in fact a major military genius and giant war hero. He comes across most of the time as a take-charge, get-things-done, usually soft-spoken, know-something-about-everything, guy. It should be remembered though that he is actually quite neo-conish both in worldview and associations. He was after all the General Bush and Cheney leapfrogged over many others to wage their grotesque wars on the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan. His military resume is full of much daring-do and quantum methods of how to vanquish the enemy with fear and co-optation as well as death and destruction.
To others, including leading intellectuals like Chomsky and many students at universities where he now drops by to teach classes at times, if judged by the policies he has promoted and the acts he has committed, David Patraeus fits the classical definition of war criminal. But then there is no entity capable of investigating and rendering such a judgement in a world still so America-centric.
Professor Richard Falk, who taught both Petraeus and myself when we went to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, is someone I will definitely be asking more about Petraeus at the next opportunity. I happened to bump into Falk at the National Press Club where he spoke just a few hours before the Petraeus dinner. I asked him if he’d like to come and say hello to his other former student. It was so fortuitous I thought that Falk just happened to be in Washington that day. But Falk politely declined saying he doubted he would be welcome. During dinner I asked Petraeus about Falk. He had laudatory things to say but then emphasized that he and Falk saw the world in totally different ways. Petraeus as well declined to be put back in touch with his old distinguished Professor of International Law and Human Rights. He understandably much prefers the company of those who fawn over him and obey, even though he is no longer at the top of the chain of command.