CIA Director David Petraeus stunned the Washington establishment on Friday by abruptly stepping down from his post, citing an extramarital affair. While other officials may have survived such an indiscretion, the nation's spy master could not. With his access to highly classified information, concerns may have lingered that by harboring a secret of his own, Petraeus could potentially be blackmailed into disclosing the country's most valuable secrets. (Update: According to Slate, Petraeus' mistress was his biographer.)
It's an ignominious end for the most famous general of modern times, who made his name leading the 2007 surge in Iraq under President George W. Bush, overseeing the war in Afghanistan under President Obama, and literally writing the book on how to use U.S. military might to fight scrappy insurgencies. Petraeus retired from the armed forces in 2011 to head the CIA, which in recent years has become one of the most active agencies in America's fight against terrorism. (The CIA operates the drones pummeling suspected terrorist havens near the Afghan-Pakistani border.)
In the Army, Petraeus had been seen as that rare breed of general who was both politically savvy and media-friendly, but he largely disappeared from public view once he became the nation's top spy. His brief tenure at the CIA had been shadowed in recent weeks by the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The CIA had a far bigger "annex" next to the consulate that reportedly housed agents charged with securing stray rockets and missiles used by the regime of deposed strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Questions have been raised as to whether the CIA and Petraeus bungled security at the consulate.
Petraeus was scheduled to testify before Congress next week. With his resignation, he will no longer do so. The timing of Petraeus' resignation, especially coming on the heels of Obama's re-election, has already led many conservative commentators to suggest that it is all somehow connected to Benghazi.
Fox News' Monica Crowley:
Unless Petraeus's "extramarital affair" was with Vladimir Putin, his resignation is OF COURSE about Benghazi.
— Monica Crowley (@MonicaCrowley) November 9, 2012
Talk show host Laura Ingraham:
COINCIDENCE?! Petraeus is set to testify NEXT week at a closed door session on Capitol Hill abt Benghazi. Did BHO push him out? This stinks!
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) November 9, 2012
Of course, many critics say these conservatives are reaching.
The Week's Marc Ambinder:
Amazing how many people think this had something to do with Benghazi. It really didn't. It had everything to do with his affair. That's it.
— Marc Ambinder (@marcambinder) November 9, 2012
Commentary's John Podhoretz:
Well, I'm certainly glad my Twitter feed isn't filling up with conspiracy theories.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) November 9, 2012
Talking Point Memo's Sahil Kapur:
Three states legalize gay marriage and days later Petraeus' marriage is in ruins. COINCIDENCE??
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) November 9, 2012