Let’s Not Overreact. Too Late!

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ISAF Photo / Navy Chief Petty Officer Joshua Treadwell

General John Allen, the incoming Afghan commander, meets with General David H. Petraeus, the outgoing Afghan commander, in July 2011.

The last 100 hours have been a John Le Carré novel starring the Marx brothers. The Pavlovian response by the press – fueled by, it must be conceded, a public appetite for more — has sent the David Petraeus story into the realm of Cher.

It’s worth noting, again, that this is a profound personal tragedy for the Allen, Broadwell, Kelley and Petraeus families. Wrongs were committed, but they don’t warrant the 24/7 scrutiny they are now getting. Nor do they warrant the congressional speechifying and poutrage that hasn’t stopped filling cable TV since Friday afternoon.

Two other, minor things, worth noting: the nation has lost its CIA chief amid the agency’s drone war against terrorists around the globe, the still-spreading unrest of the Arab Spring, and Iran’s continued nuclear efforts. And the commander of the nation’s one acknowledged war in Afghanistan is focused on emails between him and a Florida socialite, even as the Taliban kill Afghan and allied troops in their effort to return to power.

There have been several stories suggesting that military ethics are on the wane, or that these scandals are nurtured by a sense of entitlement. But military scandals rise and fall like the tides, just not as regularly. But they’re always there. The military, for the most part, is made up of humans who err and fail in their personal as well as their professional lives. Just like the rest of us.

A couple of commenters seem to have struck the right balance.

Military author Tom Ricks told Reuters:

We now seem to care more about the sex lives of our leaders than the real lives of our soldiers. We had years of failed generalship in Iraq, for example, yet left those commanders in place. Petraeus’ departure again demonstrates we are strict about intimate behavior, but extraordinarily lax about professional incompetence.

And Washington Post op-ed columnist Richard Cohen seemed to get it just about right:

…is there a better man to fill Petraeus’s CIA seat than Petraeus himself? He is blackmail-proof and more than qualified for the job. He not only was a four-star general, a West Point grad (top 5 percent of his class) and a Princeton scholar but, in the quite recent past, he held the director’s job himself. The United States would not only be getting the best man for the job but also striking a blow against the sexual McCarthyism that has destroyed so many careers and, in wretched silence, has aborted many a political career before it was even announced.

Petraeus felt he had to step down. But let the record reflect that we made him feel that way.