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      Petraeus According to Shakespeare

      At the time, Senator Barack Obama with Gen. David H. Petraeus, then top American military commander in Iraq, in a helicopter above Baghdad, 2008. (Photo: U.S. Army)A journalist friend in Charlotte, North Carolina, told me Paula Broadwell was “a quasi-celebrity here even before the affair.” As one example, he mentioned a local event during the Democratic National Convention where Joe Klein, now a Time pundit about our national scene, was speaking and introduced Broadwell in the crowd. Joe and Paula, fellow fawners over Petraeus. But that was then. My friend said, “I guess life imitates art.” I’ll say.

      Charlotte – rhymes with harlot, my friend went on – is where Homeland, the hottest of several recent television series and films on Hollywood's version of the global War on Terrorism, has been filming the past two years. Homeland, which I, like President Obama and millions of other Americans, obsessively watch, would have you believe that an American prisoner in Iraq, Nicholas Brody, has returned home, traumatized and brainwashed, to carry out a suicide bombing against a presidential candidate and the Pentagon’s high command. His contact in Charlotte – the set, that is – is a stunning Arab television journalist, who secretly works for the terrorist network of Abu Nazir, who brainwashed Brody with Koranic kindness before sending him back to blow up Washington. The voluptuous double agent charms her way into Washington's upper echelons. At the same time, Brody has passionate sex with a renegade blonde CIA analyst, Carrie, who is herself a split personality and drug addict. Their love affair is healing for both of them and, perhaps, will save the nation. We will know in three weeks. If this sounds like an update on The Manchurian Candidate, you might be correct.

      So back to the other harlot in Charlotte, the one with those remarkably buffed arms who mesmerized Jon Stewart with her Harvard cred and sixty push ups for charity. The first thing we have learned from Homeland and the Petraeus affair is that an agent of assassination can penetrate an $80 billion US intelligence apparatus to take down a target alpha male who is surrounded by layers of security and public relations flaks. One assumes Al Qaeda is taking notes.

      It is tempting to dwell on the foreplay of push ups and the jogging bodies of the the general and his biographer, or the general’s jolly attendance at Tampa’s Pirate Fest while American troops were having legs blown off in Afghanistan. But why go there? That only leads down the dark corridors of distraction, away from the real drama here.

      David Petreaus was a Shakespearian-level nemesis to Barack Obama. When Obama visited Iraq as a candidate, Petraeus tried to talk Obama out of withdrawing. David Plouffe called it a “healthy disagreement” when it was more like each taking the preliminary measure of the other. (New York Times, November 9, 2012) In Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, a second clash is described in which the new president believes he is being cornered and manipulated into a permanent escalation in Afghanistan. Obama accused the military of "really cooking the thing in the direction they wanted," according to Woodward. (P. 280)

      The tiger cages at Con Dao Prison, Côn Sơn Island, Vietnam. (Photo: Matthew Herschmann)As this test of wills unfolded, Petraeus, with the help of an inbred, fawning mass media, had become knwon as “the greatest soldier of his generation,” the counterinsurgency strategist who staved off a dishonorable American retreat in Iraq, the guiding hand behind The U.S. Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, the man who would revive the South Vietnam “Phoenix Program" from the ashes of disgrace. The Petraeus field manual rallied a cult of true believers who have been convinced for thirty years that America’s war in Vietnam would have been won if only the politicians back in the States had not pulled the plug on Phoenix because of claims of torture plus photos of emaciated Vietcong prisoners held in tiny cages. (This is all true, not a screenplay. Please see the Field Manual for more on the pacification program, pp. 73-75; see also, "Countering Global Insurgency," by Petraeus top counterinsurgency advisor, David Kllkullen, in the Small Wars Journal, November 30, 2004)

      Around Washington, the growing talk was of David Petraeus becoming the Republican presidential candidate against an impudent civilian in the White House. The Petraeus rumors were never quashed, which meant at least that they constituted useful leverage for the general.

      I have told my liberal friends, never underestimate Barack Obama as a competitor. For Obama, the best offense is always a good defense, which does not mean he lacks the tools of power, even if the cutting instruments are sheathed in silk. Much has been written about the Team-Of-Rivals model employed by Obama in making Hillary Clinton Secretary of State; it is forgotten that first he had to beat her. The most likely political reason that Obama appointed Petraeus as CIA director is that it silenced his remaining nemesis. No longer could Petraeus court the awestruck national media. He could go about his counterterrorism schemes in the shadows, but under an oath of silent loyalty to the commander-in-chief. With Patraeus rendered invisible, Obama was happy to have John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman as his remaining foils on foreign policy.

      But Obama and Petraeus were far from done with each other. The general could quit and break publicly, or resign and test the presidential waters at a future time. Obama kept a watch on Petraeus and perhaps the general spied on the president, or at least heard the muttering from certain spooks and generals. Into the tension next stepped Paula Broadhead, and sex and power thus were mixed like a toxic explosive device. Certainly the president had his loyalists embedded somewhere in the intelligence world, and soon they were aware of the affair, at least weeks before this November’s election. If one FBI agent reached Rep. Eric Cantor with the facts, surely Obama loyalists in the FBI were keeping the White House posted, too. They watched and recorded, as the actors do in Homeland, or before that, in 24. They had the general where they wanted him, who in turn had Ms. Broadwell where he wanted her, and she was on the Jon Stewart show.

      My friend in Charlotte added this, “[Broadwell] lives around the corner from a home where I understand Clair Danes shot some scenes for Homeland. In fact, she doesn’t live far from where Rielle Hunter lived for a long time with John Edwards’ daughter… Sorry we didn’t introduce you to her.”

      Sorry indeed. The whole situation, that is. 

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