Holding Himself Accountable: C.I.A. Director Gen. Petraeus Resigns

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

The year was 1951, before even many AARP card carriers among us were born. Five star General of the Army Douglas McArthur intoned these swan song words before a Joint Session of Congress.

Nearly sixty years hence, it might well seem that columnists like me seem to chase the journalistic mantle of The National Enquirer and Rupert From Oz Murdoch, instead of the “All the News Fit to Print” mantra of The New York Times. “Sex and sizzle” sells newspapers, attracts broadcast ratings and, of late, attracts Internet web site hits. I’ve gleefully lampooned the pols who were such paragons for “family values,” they had to have a second or more on the side. Fair game.

With the sudden resignation under an adulterous cloud of Central Intelligence Agency Director General David Petraeus, we busy bees of the Fifth Estate of Journalism swarm circling the nectar of scandal as if we wore black and yellow horizontally striped Capris in pursuit of cheap tabloid “Inquiring Minds Want to Know” stuff. Even your veterinarian goes for the critter Numero Duo for diagnosis. We can aspire to a loftier level of reporting and commentary while informing the public.

The military officer’s commission from back when this writer wore Navy Blue has fresh water stains courtesy of the local mountain community firefighters who saved my home from a fire a few years ago, but it’s still a commission, signed by a long-dead President. There remains a higher standard of conduct staffer-shagging Senators and Congressmen will never face. Disgraced ex-Sen. John Ensign, D.V.M. (R-Nev.) is now back coaxing stool samples from the astern end of Fido and Fluffy. Military officers are just as susceptible to human failings, but are of necessity held to a higher standard the further one climbs the career ladder of ranks.

Never mind that Gen. MacArthur frankly got too big for his whipcord breeches. A hallmark of the American military is that military officers answer to elected civilian leaders. A post-war nation saw the MacArthur who led the Pacific war, who promised “I shall return” to the Philippines, and did. The man who introduced the foundation of democracy to Japan became an “American Caesar” who was actually considering peppering the Korean peninsula’s northern border with nuclear weapons back before we realized the perils of the genie fresh from the bottle.  Then President Harry S. Truman (D) had his hands full with a hostile, obstructionist, “do nothing” Republican Congress and a war-weary populace again enduring another shooting-and-dying conflict.  The elected Commander in Chief of the day had a recklessly petulant commander who forgot who the hell he worked for. Military officers are held to a higher standard. Truman acted.

Gen. Petraeus faithfully served his nation for decades, and by the preponderance of accounts, served it well. He recognized that as Director of the C.I.A., that an extramarital affair was a highly damaging millstone around his and the nation’s necks. Petreus took responsibility and promptly resigned.

Petraeus held himself accountable even when it was personally excruciating for him to do so. It was swift and sure, unlike ex-Sen. Ensign hunkered down in the Republican House of Jayzuz on C Street, or ex-House Speaker Newt “Love ‘em and leave ‘em” Gingrich.

Let’s save the supermarket tabloid gossip and nefarious conspiracy theories for the Glennbeckistan carnival barkers of Fox News and the gefreiter Tea Baggers fawning over their “hero,” freshly-dumped Rep. Allen “Loose Cannon” West (R-Fla.) General Petraeus was honorable even when it hurt, and has enough on his retirement plate at home.

If we must exact our free market Merchant of Venice “job creator” Shylockian “pound of flesh” let’s stick with Newt Gingrich, whose bulbous belly could stand to lose a few.