The Petraeus scandal and President Obama

The Washington Post assures its readers that “Obama [is] relatively unscathed by [the] Petraeus investigation.” In the online version, the Post goes further, describing Obama as “untouched” by the affair.

The Post is right, I think, provided that Obama did not receive word of the investigation of General Petraeus before the election. If Obama did receive such word well ahead of the election, questions will arise as to what he knew about the matter, when he knew it, how he responded, and why Petraeus remained in charge of the CIA until after the election. Questions may also arise about whether the administration used its knowledge of the scandal to gain leverage with Petraeus in connection with Benghazigate.

But let’s assume that Obama didn’t hear anything about this matter until after election. In that scenario, Attorney General Holder should be sacked for not timely providing the president with information relevant to the nation’s security.

Moreover, Holder’s relation to Obama differs significantly from that of Petraeus. Obama apparently admired Petraeus and may have liked him. However, the General is not an Obama loyalist or crony. Holder is.

The Post also speculates that, with Petraeus and possibly Gen. Allen out of the way, it will be easier for Obama to withdraw rapidly from Afghanistan. But it’s extremely doubtful that Obama would have paid serious attention to the recommendations of Petraeus and Allen, in any case. He blew off the military’s view on the proper size of our surge force and on the timing for its withdrawal.

Obama has decided that the U.S. will give up in Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, he sees no reason to stick around.

JOHN adds: I am a little more skeptical that Obama can stay entirely free of the wreckage that this scandal will bring about. One, it is a scandal in his administration. It happened on his watch, and involved people whom he appointed. There is no way it can reflect other than badly on him. Two, I think it is highly unlikely that Eric Holder didn’t tell Obama what was going on. I think it is overwhelmingly probable that any action on the scandal was deferred until after the election in order to avoid damaging Obama’s campaign. Whether this is ever proved or not, and it may well be, a great many people will believe it. Three, we don’t know yet whether and how the sex scandal relates to Benghazi and its aftermath. We do know that the CIA was the only agency that tried to do anything to rescue the besieged Americans at the so-called consulate and CIA annex, presumably on Petraeus’s order, and that Petraeus personally went to Libya to interview people on the ground there about what happened. Petraeus has already testified consistent with the administration’s original movie-review-gone-bad theory; Charles Krauthammer and others have speculated that this testimony may have been driven by implicit or explicit blackmail from the Obama administration. If so, perhaps Petraeus will be more forthcoming next time. Beyond all of that, I think the scandal will have the effect of keeping attention focused on Benghazi, which is the last place Obama wants it.

So in one sense Obama won’t be implicated in the scandal; I think we can assume that he didn’t have anything to do with Jill Kelley or Paula Broadwell. But at a minimum, the irresistible confluence of sex and espionage will put an uncomfortable spotlight on the administration for some time to come.

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