Another view: Petraeus affair distracts us from real threats

5:08 PM, Nov. 18, 2012  |  Comments
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The sordid blowup over Gen. David Petraeus' affair and resignation from the CIA could not come at a worse time for the U.S. national security apparatus.

The civil war in Syria is spilling over into Turkey and Lebanon, creating the potential for a wider regional conflict.

If that weren't enough, Israel launched a massive set of strikes on Gaza on Wednesday, killing the military commander of Hamas. Those strikes are sure to spur further retaliatory violence from Hamas, while emboldening extremists in Egypt and other neighboring countries.

Along with pulling the country back from the "fiscal cliff," Congress and the administration should be fully focused on the volatile Middle East and other hot spots, such as Iran, Pakistan and the East China Sea, where Japan and China remain in a standoff over disputed territory. Instead of pulling together, Washington is turning a molehill of a sexual scandal into a mountain of innuendo and overblown claims.

As of Wednesday, evidence of serious security breaches involving Petraeus, other U.S. generals and the women around them had not materialized. It probably won't. But after years of watching the Bourne movies and shows such as "24" and "Homeland," the media and many elected leaders inside the Beltway can't resist making claims of a conspiracy.

Probably the most vacuous early suggestion was that the Obama administration jettisoned Petraeus so he wouldn't have to testify about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Thankfully, that has been silenced by the fact that Petraeus agreed to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee .

Hopefully, senators treated him with more respect than they have Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Obama marshaled a strong defense of Rice in his press conference Wednesday, but he should have gone further. The over-the-top attacks on Rice launched by Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham reek of the kind of sexism that drove so many women to vote for Democrats in the Nov. 6 election.

There are serious questions that need to be asked and answered both about Benghazi and the FBI's handling of its investigation of Petraeus. Yet neither of these incidents rises to the level of Watergate or the Iran-Contra scandal, as McCain suggested about Benghazi on Wednesday.

McCain's hyperbolic theatrics are doing real harm to U.S. standing at a time when he and others should realize what a tinderbox the Middle East is, and how our enemies there are eager to exploit any weaknesses, real or perceived.

McCain and Graham should ask themselves if they would react the same way if the White House were occupied by a Republican, one such as Ronald Reagan, who was president when terrorists attacked the military barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 U.S. and French soldiers. Following that horrific attack, Reagan appointed a fact-finding committee that concluded senior military officials were responsible for security lapses leading up to the bombing. While Reagan came under criticism from some Democrats, there was none of the kinds of partisan witch hunts that McCain and Graham are now leading.

The Obama administration must be responsive to the ongoing inquiries into Benghazi and the Petraeus affair. Those leading such inquiries need to take a deep breath, get a grip and recognize the potential damage they could cause by overreacting at a critical time.

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