- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Thursday, 15 November 2012 12:18
- Written by Mike Ely
“Petraeus is a career war criminal. His moral crime is not that he slept with his biographer. (Who gives a shit?)
“It resides in his very life’s work, his cause, his purpose, and his most fundamental ideas.”
by Mike Ely
I don’t need to share with you the unfolding details of the scandal that caused General David Petraeus to resign as head of the CIA. Those details don’t really matter to us — to oppressed people around the world and to those among us who want to end that oppression.
But watching this scandal unfold, there are many details unspoken in the narratives of this system and its mouthpieces. Let me just mention a few things that scream out at me.
1) Awe and respect for a vicious war criminal
It is amazing to see how David Petraeus is portrayed as a man of honor and accomplishment throughout the mainstream commentary, including by people who are considered liberal and even “progressive.” A sexual affair is portrays as a tragic stain on a brilliant and honorable career. And his resignation is portrayed as an unfortunate and even shocking development in the life of a man devoted to service.
What could be more perverse than such a description?
Here is a man who commanded the bloody aggression of the U.S. occupation in Iraq. A man who represents the current world-dominating military hierarchy “of his generation.” Who has (until this week) commanded the butchers, death squads, torture prisons and spies of the CIA.
I saw some shameless liberal commentator (with a hushed air of awe and respect) describe how Petraeus was the man who “rewrote the manual on counterinsurgency.”
Let me ask: What should the view of any decent and righteous person be toward a man who reorganizes the counterinsurgency of this hideous dollar-empire?
Do we support counterinsurgency — the killing and suppression of distant people and their desperate attempts at irregular warfare? Or do we support the millions (hundreds of millions!) of people who dream of defeating this empire, and the historic domination of one country over another? Do we support the high-tech drone armies and flood of dollars that are used to press and corrupt whole regions into submission?
If you ever want a clear picture of the utterly imperialist and reactionary nature of American liberalism (including its “left” Rachel Maddow fringe) — watch their commentary when it comes to the military, its crimes, and its major figures like this killer Petraeus.
2) A window into the class nature of the U.S. military
Part of this scandal draws back the curtain from the daily operation of the U.S. high command. We are shown a world of upper class Kardasian-type “socialites” who organize parties (and sexual flirtations) for the U.S. high command in Tampa.Where Petraeus arrives with a 28-motorcycle entourage at the mansion of Jill Kelley and her husband, a millionaire surgeon.Where General Allen, the commander of U.S. forces in Afganistan, engages in daily contact with Kelley (and the social connections she offers) while continuing that brutal war for the domination of a distant Central Asian country.
No one knows what details will emerge next — but the picture so far suggests an elaborate network of ruling class groupies preening for commanding generals. The whole leak from a ruling class subculture reeks of privilege, hypocrisy, adulation and corruption.
The class nature of this society and its military is stamped all over these relations — in ways that are usually hidden. We get a window into the unrestrained ambition and “media savvy” of the self-promoting Petraeus and the elaborate structures of sexual and social puffery that surround men like that in this society.
3) The hollowness of bourgeois privacy
The military emerges from this as an institution that has retained for itself the profoundly bourgeois mix of complete hypocrisy and reactionary social “standards.” On the surface, every ugly traditional patriarchal notion is upheld and proclaimed, and (when the curtain is pulled back) we see the reality that (everywhare) accompanies that tradition: Defacto harems for powerful men, deception,networks of women whose future has been tied to relations with sexual partners, and more.
Suddenly we see how the FBI pursues casual and systematic trawling through the emails of people — downloading and studying communications in secret with little restraint or oversight. In private, there are elaborate official discussions about what language of flirtation (in emails!) is ”inappropriate” in this society — where the sexual relations of people (and even of high ranking figures) are considered a matter for FBI investigation and decision. If we are going to discuss “inappropriate” lets ask: Why is it appropriate for the national police to gather email correspondence between people without oversight or constraint? Why are the sexual affairs of individuals matters that require the enforcement of FBI agents and media “scandals”? And, if they are rummaging through the emails of top generals, what constraints do they have when it comes to the emails of the rest of us?
4) A politicized theocracy of power
One subplot of this affair involves a “veteran FBI agent” (a key figure of counter-terrorism operation named Frederick Humphries II who decided (out of obviously reactionary personal and political motives) to make a “federal case” out of the email harassment of Jill Kelley. Completely outside any legal procedures or chain of command, this avowed ultra-conservative brought the affair to his network of Republican operatives (from Seattle to Congress) — all seeking to turn the sexual affair of Petraeus into an instrument for the most reactionary rightwing political cause. And Humphries succeeded (initially).
In the hands of Congressman Kantor this suddenly became an affair of state — toppling the head of the CIA (but too late to affect the election).
Ten seconds of reflection here reveal a great deal of how politics and power work in the U.S.: How the institutions of policing (like the FBI and the military inspector general) are entwined to rightwing theocratic views on morality, and how information flows rapidly toward central operatives as fuel for their ongoing power struggle.
5) A window into the military as an politicized institution of violent reaction.
In a remarkable commentary, a prominent piece in the New York Times opinion pages sketched how the modern U.S. military (its officer core and reactionary volunteer force) see themselves as the only uncorrupted part of U.S. society.
The key observation there was that the military high command increasingly sees itself as a “Praetorian guard” in a “bacchanalian society.” In other words, that the U.S. military sees itself as a precious remaining repository of honor and righteousness in a society deeply lost to corruption and decay.
This classically fascist view among militarists gives rise to a special self-image of destiny, political role and (perversely) privilege — which is all the more dangerous when the larger military (in the U.S.) has become from top to bottom a structure of self-selecting, career mercenaries (and not the previous U.S. military with a rank-and-file of drafted “citizen soldiers”).
The military in an institution that believe that the “ordinary” rules don’t apply to them. They feel they along have the honor to “serve” the larger defining values of society. And that sense of specialness brings entitlement — a belief that strictures (for example against rape) don’t apply to those who are “serving” — and those whose special manliness gives them special right to assert powers and privileges now denied in a corrupt, weak, and supposedly-feminized society.
The career military as an institution (like the subcultures of the Religious Right) exists as a political and social bubble within which radically reactionary norms are asserted, and from which a militant cleansing of society is envisioned.
What emerges from the media cult around Petraeus (“the best of his generation”) and the now-imposed obligatory respect for military “service” is a sense of how the U.S. military functions as a political force (and reserve) in society today — permeating the politics and life in often unseen ways, and promoting the most backward values of patriotism and rightwing violence in ways that poison everything it touches.
(If I hear one more person say to some veteran “I respect you for your service,” i’m going to vomit. Killing for empire is “service” only to everything awful and immoral about modern human society.)
Petraeus is a reactionary war criminal. His moral crime is not that he slept with his biographer. (Who gives a shit?) It resides in his very life’s work, his cause, his purpose, and his most fundamental ideas.
This sexual scandal exposes the extreme patriarchal privilege and hypocrisy of powerful men in the U.S., but also the way that the FBI now has been empowered to probe into everyone’s digital lives with impunity, and the ways in which the “moral” standards of a defacto theocracy now motivate powerful institutions of the state.