The scandal is a good reminder that, although John McCain and Sarah Palin urge total trust and blank checks for the generals, these guys are human beings working under extremely stressful circumstances, and their judgments are not beyond reproach.
Petraeus’s Icarus flight began when he set himself above President Obama. Accustomed to being a demigod, expert at polishing his own celebrity and swaying public opinion, Petraeus did not accept the new president’s desire to head for the nearest exit ramp on Afghanistan in 2009. The general began lobbying for a surge in private sessions with reporters and undercutting the president, who was trying to make a searingly hard call.
Petraeus rolled the younger commander in chief into going ahead with a bound-to-fail surge in Afghanistan, just as, half-a-century earlier, the C.I.A. had rolled Jack Kennedy into going ahead with the bound-to-fail Bay of Pigs scheme. Both missions defied logic, but the untested presidents put aside their own doubts and instincts, caving to experience.
Once in Afghanistan, Petraeus welcomed prominent conservative hawks from Washington think tanks. As Greg Jaffe wrote in The Washington Post, they were “given permanent office space at his headquarters and access to military aircraft to tour the battlefield. They provided advice to field commanders that sometimes conflicted with orders the commanders were getting from their immediate bosses.”
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