The FBI Sabotages Petraeus—And Obama

Are we really safer now?

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In this April 8, 2008 photo, Gen. David Petraeus testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, for remembrance of the Great War to end all wars, we knew that the FBI spied on the chief spy. Isn't that great?

Well, it wasn't a very nice way to start the president's brand new day, thanks to the men who rule in the brutal J. Edgar Hoover building. Next time, how about a bit more consideration for the nation's nerves? Instead of breakfast in bed, it was like being served a dead mouse the cat walked in with. 

Actually, it was rude to Barack Obama, to tell him just then about David Petraeus's sordid affair, which would bring down the director of the CIA. Why couldn't the FBI simply tell Petraeus privately what was up and let him have a chance to re-assemble the pieces of his life? 

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Just how would it hurt national security to let the president and his people stay a day longer in a state of exhausted euphoria? No crime was committed.

But no, it was urgent to spoil a victory glow for Obama, so the Bureau had no time to tell anyone in Congress, either. The FBI has had its eye on the top spy all summer, and it couldn't wait another day to rip the lid off steamy E-Mail messages between Patraeus and one Paula Broadwell, a siren who feared another married woman (not you, Mrs. Holly Petraeus) was getting too close to her six-minute-miler lover. 

The FBI has completely reinvented itself as a shadowy behemoth since Sept. 11th, 2001—and now it seems clear they don't know where the water’s edge stops for them.  They may have gotten an institutional pleasure out of busting the chops of their chief bureaucratic nemesis, the CIA, across the river.  

[See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

A lot of people in Washington thought Petraeus, Obama's pick as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, walked on water, including Petraeus himself. He was the cool, cerebral Army general who had the answers and made up the "surge" concept for the Iraq war. Very nice. It saved George W. Bush's presidency, bigtime, from failure in a lethal war. Not that we "won" that war—we lost civil society in Iraq the day we marched in and let antiquities be destroyed. Years on, Petraeus cunningly devised a military strategy that gave political cover to feckless civilian leaders: not pretty, but good enough to get us out of there.  

That's roughly what  Petreaus, 60, achieved and why he may have had the plums of the presidency of Princeton University—and the United States—on his future resume. Brutus would say he was ambitious, but Petraeus was an honorable man—while in the spartan Army, anyway.  

Ruling at the Agency, where the president thought he'd serve his country well, Petraeus was suddenly out of uniform. He missed his precious medals and stars on his shoulders. A civilian for the first time since he entered West Point, Petraeus clearly could not adjust to the bracing air. As soon as the man faced the freedoms and liberties, the choices and temptations, of life as a civilian, it was more than he could bear. The brilliant career is over— the deal is done—and thanks to the FBI, we feel so much safer.

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