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Le Journal du Dimanche , France

The Petraeus Affair:
Obama in the Line of Fire

By Karen Lajon

Translated By Catherine McGuinness

17 November 2012

 Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard

France - Le Journal du Dimanche - Original Article (French)

At first it was sexual, but the Petraeus scandal, so named for the former head of the CIA, has become a matter of state. Have Obama and Petraeus said all there is to say about the death of the American ambassador to Syria?

It is all in the semantics. Using one word and not another. “Extremist” rather than “terrorist.” A nuance that concerned no one at the time but which now tolls like the end of a perfect career which has just exploded mid-flight. Thus the scandal in the case of David Petraeus, 60, entered its second phase this week. After being largely amused at the extramarital adventures of the former director of the CIA, American politicians and press are now very much interested in the timing of his resignation and the impact it could have on the country’s security. This begins with the management of the Benghazi attack which took place on September 11 and cost the lives of J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, as well as three of his compatriots.

The week of the presidential election was full of dangers. Incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama was in the final straight. Mathematically, he won the electoral vote, but the popular vote concerned his advisors. Victory seemed unclear. Were they all so very attentive then? We still don’t know. One thing is certain, however: The day after the victory, Obama was informed of Petraeus' adulterous affair with a 40-year-old woman, Paula Broadwell. The impact was twofold: Obama is not like Bill Clinton; he hardly condones this kind of behavior and was said to be “disappointed.” Not to mention that the timing of this multi-faceted scandal (which the president didn’t yet know about) made it all the worse. In the end it all seemed miserable vaudeville at that time. Obama was re-elected Tuesday, November 6, Petraeus presented his resignation Thursday. It was accepted and announced Friday.

The Spy Spied Upon

The affair could have been left at that; however, it very quickly became a matter of national security. David Petraeus is not just anyone, he is the head of the CIA—the spy spied upon. The FBI was first in the line of fire. They knew for months that the four-star general was having an extramarital relationship with Paula Broadwell, so why was the Obama administration not informed? Then, the criticism very quickly shifted focus onto the CIA. What had they seen? And had they warned the president, as they should have? Some Republican elected officials then questioned the concomitance between Petraeus' resignation and televised hearings scheduled for Friday November 16 before Congress, focusing on the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The four-star general testified on the Friday after the election. He expressed regret for his "inappropriate conduct" but was not questioned on this issue. No, instead the interrogation focused on this famous question of semantics. Why was the word “terrorist” not used immediately? Why has it remained so vague? The former head of the CIA said that he voluntarily chose not to clearly identify the name of these terrorist groups linked to the al-Qaida nebula, preferring to be more vague and use the term “extremist.” The goal was to avoid alerting them.

However, the Republicans do not see it that way. Under fire from Republican criticism is someone close to Barack Obama, Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, who has been approached about replacing Hillary Clinton as head of the Department of State, an appointment that some Republicans swear they will prevent. Why, five days after the attack, has she suggested that the drama of Benghazi was more the result of a spontaneous attack, linked to the Islamophobic video which ignited part of the Muslim world, rather than a terrorist attack?

McCain Evokes Watergate

The senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, and that of Arizona, John McCain, proved particularly vitriolic against Rice at Barack Obama’s first press conference the day after the election, goading the president into saying: "If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me." The Republican senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, stated that Petraeus' testimony showed that “clearly the security measures were inadequate despite an overwhelming and growing amount of information that showed the area in Benghazi was dangerous.”

The Democrats were immediately up in arms, claiming that there had been no political calculation in the timing of the resignation and the hearing before Congress. But Senator McCain, who was Barack Obama's opponent in the 2008 presidential election, did not give up and moreover was not above comparing Benghazi to the Watergate scandal, which cost Richard Nixon the presidency. "Except that nobody died during Watergate," said the Arizona senator.



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