THE BLOG

Droning on

11/12/2012 06:16 pm ET | Updated Jan 12, 2013

I am not one of those people who thought that General David Petraeus did a particularly good job in either Iraq or Afghanistan. He came to national attention with the authorship of a counterinsurgency manual that was thought revelatory, but was, in substance, a primer for junior officers, and broke no new ground in counterinsurgency. The misapplication of the manual's underlying principles to the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in an unsuccessful outcome in the former, and an impending, and even worse failure in the latter. But persistent cheerleading in the press and in Congressional committee hearings, particularly on the Senate side, created a mythology that has endured, and never been warranted.

Peter King, the New York congressman who chairs the Homeland Security Committee in the House, stated that Petraeus has made America safer these past 10 years. It is this kind of thinking that has cost this country the tens of thousands of casualties in two bloated war efforts that haven't done anything but manufacture thousands of jihadists. Petraeus did not even have anything to do with the initial effort in Afghanistan, possibly the only justifiable military incursion this country has made in this century.

Petraeus' tenure at the CIA has been lauded despite repeated failures to clarify the Middle Eastern landscape and roster of players in the Arab Spring. One result was the Libya tragedy, a complete misapprehension of a situation that was compounded by a wheezy attempt to provide cover for a failure to protect American personnel. Another is our befuddlement over what to do about Syria.

Many Washingtonians are bemoaning Petraeus' departure. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the current chair of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, stated regret over Petraeus' resignation. Forget that, as a woman, she didn't sympathize with Petraeus' wife. No one else did, either. Then, there were others who stated that it was unfortunate that Petraeus slipped up in upholding his own high standards. What was the slip: running around, or getting caught?

Few of those so heartbroken over Petraeus' fall indicated any concern over potential compromise of classified material until pressed, or that men in Petraeus' situation are often distracted by their infatuations as well as the need to continually cover their subterfuge. No one among those quoted on the networks indicated that Petraeus' staff in Afghanistan would have been able to avoid realizing that something inappropriate was going on, and that such shenanigans would have been in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Let us also examine the great fit that Petraeus found at a CIA drifting more and more into the world of paramilitary operations. These are centered on its drone campaign, which targets all sorts of Middle Eastern miscreants. Having been in charge of U.S. Central Command, and then all forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus is fully conversant with this program, and the use of drones in general. The campaign has its advantages, in that it is responsive, is an excellent way of obtaining intelligence, and does not risk the lives of pilots. On the other hand, there is a greater likelihood of collateral damage when drones are used to kill the enemy. But there is also the question of what is being accomplished.

The drone program is the centerpiece of a strategy of decapitating terrorist organizations in order to decrease their effectiveness. In fact, this has been no more effective than the use of the decapitation approach in our anti-drug campaign. The tendency in our culture to find rock stars seems to extend to our enemies as well. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the people in charge of drug and terrorist organizations are fungible thugs who are replaced by other thugs waiting in the wings for their turns at running the show. Scholars who analyze the terrorist landscape point to these ordinary criminals as one reason for why there have been no successful terrorist events in the United States since 2001.

Petraeus and the CIA were a key part of a continuing attempt to keep our military and intelligence establishments engaged at a time when the American public has become fed up with casualties and financial profligacy. This is the reason that such a big deal was made last week of the incident off the coast of Iran where Iranian jets fired unsuccessfully at a U.S. spy drone. The concept was clearly stated in a recent op-ed in The New York Times by Arthur O'Connell, a professor at the United States Naval Academy, who pointed out the militarization of U.S. foreign policy and the complete failure at the top to heed the half-century-old Eisenhower tocsin about the Military-Industrial Complex.

There is an undercurrent of internal rot here that is spread across the entire Washington establishment and reflected in many ways: the generally bankrupt election campaign; the endless, ineffectual wars and misuse of our greatest national asset, our military; the total loss of respect for Congress; the Libyan tragedy; and now, the Petraeus mess. This last piece is not as shocking as it seems because further investigation will likely reveal that much was tolerated in this evolving situation for far longer than it should have been. Rather, it will eventually come to be seen for what it is -- the fall of someone with undeserved iconic status who was part of the feckless and isolated insiders club that runs this country. It's not some special news story. It's just business as usual.