Coffee House

The Petraeus and Allen business raises questions about US defence

15 November 2012

Leaving aside the moral implications of the scandal which caused General Petraeus to resign as head of the CIA, this is an issue which demands serious attention from the American defence establishment. We know that Petraeus’ alleged mistress Paula Broadwell is said to have accessed his emails, and that she sent threatening emails to another lady, Jill Kelly, who she believed was getting too close to the General. Now it also transpires that General John Allen has been sending between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of ‘inappropriate emails’ to Kelly. The emails are said to have been sent from 2010-2012 which, even using the lowest figure amounts to something like 27 emails a day. That’s a mind boggling figure in ordinary circumstances, let alone when considering that Allen is commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

It is all rather reminiscent of the Profumo affair when it transpired that John Profumo’s mistress was a Soviet Spy. There’s no suggestion whatsoever that either Broadwell or Kelly are spies for foreign agencies, but there are two broader points of principle from that incident which must be considered here.

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The first is that the prospect for sensitive information to be compromised is almost always heightened in such circumstances, even when there is no nefarious foreign plot. American journalist Eli Lake has asked whether Broadwell inadvertently leaked unreported information about the Benghazi attack which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. In the aftermath of the attack ‘Broadwell seemed to speak on behalf of Petraeus’ writes Lake. This is a serious charge particularly as Lake has produced the most authoritative reporting on the Benghazi incident to date.

The second issue is one of leadership. Members of the intelligence community are routinely warned against engaging in extra-marital affairs, and frequently lose their jobs when they do. The potential for compromise by hostile agencies is simply too great. It is unlikely the director of the CIA would be as susceptible to blackmail as his subordinates, but institutional cultures flow from the top. Indeed, just days before the scandal broke Broadwell wrote a piece on ‘General David Petraeus’s Rules for Living’. Rule number one? Lead by example. As allegations of impropriety now threaten to engulf Allen too, the U.S. administration must ensure it sets the example it wants the defence establishment to follow by acting decisively.

In the latest issue of the Spectator, Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a weekly columnist for, sets about General Petraeus’ military record and personality cult, describing him as ‘the Don Draper of the Pentagon’. You can read the piece here.

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Show comments
  • El_Sid

    For those wanting more background on Petraeus’ career, Time have a pretty fair piece :

    It includes several generals who believe the hype.

  • Malfleur

    Frank P
    November 15th, 2012 – 17:21

    As I am persona non grata over on Trolltopia, would someone who isn’t
    please be kind enough to pop over and inform Mr Shiraz Maher, that he’s
    about two months behind this with regard to his caption “The Petraeus
    and Allen business raises questions about US defence”:

    It also raises questions about why the Spectator (in line with the
    MSM generally) is so deeply in the tank for Obama that it has waited
    until now to raise those issues and why Mr Maher leaves much of the
    nitty gritty out of his tepid essay.

    The first appearance of the POTUS at a ‘meet the press’ gathering
    since last May was the grossest exhibition of the US media in loving
    adoration of the Messiah I have ever witnessed and I’ve monitored some
    wankfests in my time. Once again nobody called him out, except Ed Henry
    from Fox and even he could have done better, What was particularly
    nauseating was the spectacle of the female journalists creaming in their
    knickers because of the very presence of The One (may our resident
    ladies please explain that – Obama seems to exude about as much
    testosterone as Peter Tatchell, I would have thought).

    Obama’s defence of Susan Rice was something to behold, but he
    overstepped the mark and the personal attack on McCain and Graham will
    probably be his undoing. A select committee is now almost inevitable. No
    doubt Obastard already has a line of culpable subordinates to follow
    Paetraeus and Allen under the bus, but the Alinski disciples behind the
    scenes are already planning for Obama’s successor, whether or not this
    diabolical Benghazi debacle demands some top level political surgery in
    the near future or in 2016. Apparently Panetta and Hillary have already
    volunteered to take the back seat of the bus.

    Susan Rice, a la Rosa Parks, will of course claim the very front seat of the bus –

    S of S.

    America is over. Steyn’s prophesies are bang on. It’s the demographics, stoopid.

    But in the short term we do need to know just WTF was going on in
    Libya with the CIA and why the White House abandoned their ‘ambassador’
    and his crew of spooks. Enough of the pussy-fest already.

    • telemachus

      Listen Frank
      They axed you for a good reason
      Benghazigate is of little interest to the reasonable folk here
      Further Romney has been and gone
      Move on

  • Curnonsky

    It now appears the White House has known about Petraeus’ indiscretions for some time, perhaps even before he was confirmed as CIA director. A handy bit of knowledge to keep him in line, especially when the shameful Benghazi affair erupted before the election and the CIA was cast by the Chicago mob as scapegoat. Petraeus’ fatal error was to allow his paramour to brief on his (and the CIA’s) behalf, undermining the White House narrative. Sword offered, like a good soldier he fell upon it.

  • Jules

    With super injunctions, injunctions, a human right to a private life and impending restrictions on the media, would the British media be able to expose a similar scandal?

  • dalai guevara

    Any connection to the Lockheed Martin incident or are we just coincidently witnessing a complete overhaul of the American ‘setup’?

  • HooksLaw

    I do not see that is being like Profumo. Are either of these women linked to soviet agents?
    Coffee House seems to be trying to beak its record for the number of useless post it can generate in any 24 hr period.

    It the level of moral deference which the author seeks to impose had been present in times past we would have probably lost the Battle of Trafalgar and Waterloo and someone other than Eisenhower would have had to commanded in Normandy and Lloyd george would never have been PM in WW1..

    • Augustus

      I agree entirely with that. it seems to me that the one who should act ” decisively”
      should be General Petraeus who should testify and tell the truth about what the CIA knew about the Benghazi attack on September 11, 2011. If he does not a distinguished career of service to America will be ruined by the worst mistake of his life.

  • Judy

    A relatively minor point. Profumo’s mistress, Christine Keeler (who is still alive, as far as I know, so watch out for libel writs) was not a Russian spy, or any other sort of spy. She was however also engaged in a sexual relationship with a Russian spy, who I believe was one of the attaches at the Russian Embassy. John Profumo was Defence Minister at the time, but he probably had access to far less really sensitive information than had either of these generals.

    It underlines the point that once someone in a very high security position allows themselves into an illicit and/or secret relationship with someone else, they have in fact compromised whatever security they are responsible for, because that person is a free agent, and is likely to have unknown further contacts, in the way that a close family member doesn’t.

    Another thing about both the generals and the women they got over-involved with is that being in a situation where all of them know they are pushing the boundaries leads to the feeling that they know better than those boring unsexy old security nerds what it is and isn’t safe to divulge. The more they feel that, the more cavalier and insouciant they get about the boundaries, sometimes almost to the point where they feel they are invulnerable. This syndrome, incidentally, sometimes proves to be the downfall of major previously successful fraudsters in the world of finance and the like.

  • Jupiter

    Did Barry know about this before the election? It is very convenient for him that it came out 2 days later.

    • eeore

      Even more handy as Patraeus is due to give evidence, and he has a history of being a blabbermouth – like when he let the cat out of the bag about installing spy equipment in domestic appliances.

  • TomTom

    Mrs Kelley is of Lebanese extraction but $4 million in debt from her socialite lifestyle which makes her a security risk. It must be delightful for National Guardsmen shipped off to Afghan to know that their generals are knocking around with doctors’ wives and that customers describe Broadwell’s hagiography of Petraeus as “pillow talk”. These men have no credibility. The US starts to look like a really decadent republic

    • eeore

      It is not and hasn’t been for some while, a republic.

  • Adrian Drummond

    It is somewhat ironic that in a military hierarchical sense, Petraeus was the alpha male – yet when it comes to his relationships with women, he’s a complete beta.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    No questions raised here that haven’t been raised for some many years, re people at the top of the pile, some of whom misbehave or serve poorly upon reaching that top.

    The larger issue is the likes of the MSM’s worship of these people, as if they hold some special station somehow. One of the Speccie teenagers even remarked the other day that Patraeus is the most important/influential general of the post-war era. Laughable. Absolutely laughable. That fawning, worshipful nonsense is testimony to the ignorant, reality television perspective of the modern MSM.

    This guy has been or will be liquidated without further thought, and not be missed, as won’t the other guy if it’s deemed expedient to expel him. There are plenty more competent folks where these guys came from, most all of whom can fill the need.

    Perhaps rather than focus on the reality tv aspects of this, the horse race, scorekeeping, who’s winning and who’s losing and have I got a fresh leak handy to tittle tattle onto my blog… you kids will spend some time explaining issues, and not personalities. It’d do you good.

    • Duke of Earl

      It is a valid point to criticise the media’s adoration, but I think you are belittling Petraeus’ achievements. He HAS in fact accomplished much and managed to effectively pacify Iraq. A mission everyone thought was impossible. For all this, he is a man and all men are fallible.
      We do afterall idolise other great generals like Patton, Montgomery and Rommel. This isn’t because they are perfect, but because they do extraordinary things.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        I don’t think you can find many in the uniformed armed services who would agree with you that Petraeus “pacified” Iraq, or is anything special. Quite the opposite, in fact. There are knowing glances being glanced knowingly, all around the globe, over this media creation.

        A small influx of 30,000 soldiers, mostly to provide numerical cover for a shoot-to-kill change-up in rules of engagement, coupled with an empty handed de-contretemps with the Sunni Iraqis who’d been previously scorned. Both of the above were political decisions made in Washington, D.C., and neither involved anything like sophisticated generalship.

        His stuff will be boxed up, and he won’t be missed or remembered long. No reason. He’s not a historically significant figure.

        • telemachus

          I agree
          He like most republican and military yanks is a smug self satisfied git

          • John Jefferson Burns

            What the hell do you know you snivelling worm?

            General Petraeus had spent his entire career as an infantryman. He was a proud, old-fashioned, rifle-carrying soldier whose job was to defeat the enemy in close combat. That’s what he had been trained to do and that’s certainly what he knew how to do best. It was not, however, what the Army needed for the war in Iraq. It had won the war with the Iraqi Army, but was losing the insurgency that followed it.

            So, what did General Petraeus do? First, he carefully assessed the situation on the ground in Iraq to determine what the problem was. Then, he thought through the alternative strategies and determined that the traditional tactics of ground combat had to be replaced with a new kind of counterinsurgency warfare. Finally, he acquired the knowledge necessary to develop that new strategy and
            literally wrote the “book”–the Army’s Field Manual–which detailed

            General Petraeus didn’t just develop a new way of war-fighting, he redefined himself as its author and champion. In other words, he was no longer an old fashioned infantryman; he was the “father of counterinsurgency” and rebuilt his reputation on that theme. He was tireless in his efforts to explain it to his superiors in the Defense Department, to convert his peers to his point of view and to convince all of them of its potential to turn the tide in Iraq.

            The journey of General Petraeus from a backwater command in Kansas to the front lines of this nation’s Armed Forces didn’t occur without some difficult twists in the road and a setback or two. He had the courage of his convictions, however, and a fierce determination to succeed. He fought through the hard times because he believed in himself and what he could do. While his reinvigorated talent and redefined brand were both essential to his advancement, it was that factor–his character–which ensured his success.

            We saved you Limeys after your ignominious defeat in Basra.

            Thankyou would be nice.

            • HooksLaw

              Sadly you are right about our mission in Basra going wrong. Please do not think that anti US nut jobs are typical, but as you will note, realism is not much in evidence on these pages.

              • telemachus

                I can point JJB to the sensible reasonable posters

            • the viceroy’s gin

              The US military used a shoot-to-kill policy to clean out islamofascist nutters in the Philippines a century ago, and the methods employed in the Sunni triangle. were little different than those. Petraeus didn’t invent them, some long ago dead Marine did, fyi.

              • John Jefferson Burns

                No but Petraeus wrote them up and applied them.
                You cannot take away from him the victory to allow disengagement.
                A politico-military genius.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, those methods were long ago written up by that Marine, not Petraeus. It is laughable, this “genius” nonsense. This guy is going to be forgotten, and soon. Find me the uniformed US military officer who supports that nonsense. I can’t find them.

                  Not that the long ago dead Marine gave us anything earth shattering, mind you. Go out and target the bad guys, and don’t be afraid to open fire at the slightest provocation, absent consulting the lawyers. Even a perfumed prince like Petraeus is capable of doing that, apparently.

              • Malfleur

                In case you haven’t noticed, the islamofascist nutters are still there and killing Filipino soldiers.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  But of course… you can never be rid of these cockroaches, or any other vermin. You just exterminate a crop of them now and again.

            • telemachus

              I recall you backed the loser on November 6

            • Noa

              “We saved you Limeys after your ignominious defeat in Basra.
              Thank you would be nice..”
              Which is what allies do, but begs the question of why either the US or the UK had invaded Iraq in the first place on conspicuously manufactured evidence. You will note that there is much concern and debate in the UK about the UK’s military ability to meet the vainglorious aspirations of its pygmy politicians, an issue which existed in Basra.

              Whilst I broadly agree with your analysis of Petreaus’ military abilities he is regrettably the author of his own post military career demise.

            • Baron

              So, John J-B, he does all you say he did, the persuading, the assessing, the redefining, the saving of the incompetent Brits and stuff, then jumps to bed with a woman, carpet bombs her with e-mails…

              You sure you know what you are talking about?

            • vix

              Thank you from us poor cousins.
              But ‘father’ of counterinsurgency?! Please let’s drop the celebrity cultures. Many make it to the top and then fall to their private lives or, in the case of the military just don’t get the politics when they meet administrations or government. He’s resigned. Well done. More honourable than most.

              PS. It would be nice to have a thank you, in return, for going to war on the lies of WMD and being dragged into un-pre-planned reconstruction of an entire country.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                No sense blaming somebody else for being stupid.

          • Noa

            Apologise for the vile and entirely untrue “UKIP/porn colleague” slur you scurrilous poltroon.

            • telemachus

              I’ve looked at the Patten thread and am not sure of your point
              However I am a very reasonable man and if you are upset I am concerned and I am truly sorry

              • Noa

                Which is not an apology.

                • telemachus

                  Is it blood you want?

                • Noa

                  No, an apology.

          • Baron

            It takes one to spot one, eh, telemachus?

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Yes, saved in Basra and in Helmand as well. So the smug and self satisfied must be doing something right.

            Although none of it unique to Petraeus.

        • Duke of Earl

          So you’re an expert on nation building are you? And who do you think formulates military strategy in the US? It certainly wasn’t the chimp in the White House, Cheney, or the idiots in congress at the time.
          And it it undeniable that the “surge” worked. Iraq isn’t and was never going to be a peaceful democracy, but it’s all relative.

          • HooksLaw

            Correct that the surge worked and to his credit Bush took that option rather than the cut and run one put forward by a Senate study group.

            Gin’s claim for ‘shoot to kil’l totally misreads the point of the so called ‘surge’ and how it worked. The point of the surge was to give the Iraqis the chance for themselves to secure their neighbourhoods in the knowledge that the Americans were not going to leave them helpless after previously cleaning up an area.

            Typically Democrats like Pelosi were contemptuous (though later happy to support Obama adding troops to Afghanistan). The results of the surge speak for themselves and its typical that a leading member of the ostrich society should misrepresent it.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            So nothing substantial to support your position then? Thought so.

            Everything and I do mean EVERYTHING executed in Iraq during Petraeus’ time there came as a result of relaxation of the rules of engagement and a changed policy regarding the Sunnis. End of.

            They shot-on-sight, and also got shot more, mind you, as the casualty figures of that era show clearly. And the Sunnis came into government and assisted in throwing out the foreign elements, once they knew the US would embrace the Sunnis and bring them into the fold.

            End of insurgency.

            And all as a result of political decisions, not military. You should get your nose out of the Speccie teenagers’ witterings.

            • Duke of Earl

              You’re missing the point. My argument was that he formulated and implemented the strategy in Iraq. He also convinced a VERY skeptical Pentagon and White House at a time when the Yanks were considering cutting their losses.
              Wars aren’t won solely on the field, and I never claimed they were.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                No, he formulated nothing. Going out and targeting and killing the enemy has been around long before your fav squeeze Petraeus. Seriously. I’m not kidding. They shoot, and you shoot back, and with superior firepower, you’ll win the engagement.

                Seriously. It does work like that.

                And fyi, the Pentagon likes nothing better than being given the green light to go out and kill the enemy. That’s what most knowledgeable wanted to do all along, but the politicians wanted to go with the lawyers.

                The Pentagon required ZERO persuading here. You appear quite ill informed on these matters. Sorry.

                This was a political decision, and Petraeus had little to nothing to do with it, other than in the Speccie teenagers’ feverish World of Warcraft style writings.

                Kill the enemy and bring the Sunnis into the fold. That’s what occurred, all as a result of Washington, D. C.’s decisions. Petraeus had almost nothing to do with it. And it is insulting if he’d ever claim so, which I doubt he’ll ever do, even if the ill informed will.

          • Baron

            Duke, you from an inbred dynasty then, are you? Viceroy’s spot on, as he says what the White House strategists, and the facilitator of the strategy did amounted to nothing more than common sense, you pick a man from a street he’ll be as competent as the medal laden guy was.

            And as for the arsing of ‘nation building;? Don’t make Baron laugh, please.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Yes, anybody who mentions the word “nationbuilding” should be deported to Guantanamo for hourly waterboarding. Just on general principles.

            • Duke of Earl

              Great ad hom there. Way to lose an argument.
              As for your claim that anyone could have done it, I guess we should scrap centuries of military strategy and let Privates decide strategy.
              If it was so easy, how come it wasn’t so obvious before? And how come we couldn’t manage it in Basra?

              • the viceroy’s gin

                Stupid politicians.

                • vix


                • telemachus

                  It was always tautology when I was at school

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