“How the mighty have fallen ,” the headlines blared in a mournful tone. Far from falling in a blaze of glory on the battlefield, this time the storied General fell on his own sword . The proverbial “sword” in this pathetic spectacle was the hypocrisy of retired General and CIA Director David Petraeus, the “warrior scholar” and avatar of asymmetric warfare himself, and an intoxicated ambition dangerously fed (and ultimately, doomed) by the personality cult built up around him. This arrogant arc of ego-inflation culminated in a disastrous and humiliating extramarital affair between Petraeus and his adoring, hubristic hagiographer. Had not even the Director of the CIA clearly internalized the maxim, “loose lips sink ships”?
“Extremely poor judgment,” assesses the General. Really? Well, let’s see. “Poor judgment” is leaving your credit card back at the restaurant where you just finished eating. “Extremely poor judgment” is failing to go back to retrieve it. What Petraeus did here went far beyond “extremely poor judgment.”
“What went wrong?” So ask the yellow “journalists” and “embedded” hacks swarming about the Potomac. The press had grown so used to singing hosannas about the man (the legend) that their own songs hypnotized them into a frenetic palsy of unrestricted ardor , regardless of the dubious consequences of his strategies overseas . Indeed, this set-to was yet another classic case of the echo chamber undermining basic journalistic integrity, not to mention the national security interests of the American people as a whole. The yellow journalism worm is now exhibiting its rapid metamorphosis into a tabloid slug as Pravda-esque Pentagon propagandists now perform the dirty work of gutter-dwelling paparazzi . The mother of all weapons of mass distraction now consists of the lurid details of Petraeus’ steamy love life. Meanwhile, from the bloodied borders of Iraq and Syria to the war-scarred mountains of Pashtunistan, the world keeps burning… as do the charred fringes of servicemember morale, good order and discipline.
As far back as 2007, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation ( MRFF), the civil rights foundation that I head, was shining the floodlight on matters of infidelity far graver than the General’s prurient peccadilloes.
Ironically enough, Petraeus was a vocal advocate of military “Spiritual Fitness.” Spiritual Fitness is little more than a disingenuous and transparent Trojan horse for Evangelical Christian Fundamentalism within the U.S. Armed Forces. Indeed, it is a sinister Star Chamber, an unlawful means by which nationalism and militarism are merged with sectarian Christian zeal. One of the core components of Spiritual Fitness is matrimonial loyalty, but since when were religious fundamentalism and outright hypocrisy mutually exclusive? But I digress…
Spiritual Fitness programming has taken various forms. For years, servicemembers have been coerced into attending sappy, saccharine Christian rock concerts. One of these tours, whose headlining acts included performances of songs with repugnant and vacuously vapid titles like “United We Stand When Together We Kneel,” had even been openly promoted by General Petraeus as “enormously important to those who wear the uniform.” Needless to say, this Flag Officer endorsement struck MRFF as wholly loathsome and an act of anti-Constitutional treachery of the highest order.
The next shock came in 2008 as I sat reading an issue of the Air Force Times. It was then that I stumbled on an ad for a book by Army chaplain Lt. Col. William McCoy entitled Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel. And who gave a shining, universal endorsement on this book’s back cover? None other than the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, who stated, “Under Orders should be in every rucksack for those moments when Soldiers need spiritual energy.” Upon inspection, the book proved itself to be a disgusting parochial screed promoting Christian religious supremacy while also denigrating the integrity of the 21% of American servicemembers who define themselves as atheists or having no religious preference.
American armed forces personnel have routinely been made to take part in official “Fitness Assessment” surveys that, believe it or not, actually gauge their Spiritual Fitness. In true Pavlovian fashion, Dominionist conceptions of “Spiritual Fitness” have been passionately drilled in by means of leading soldiers in prayer ceremonies that repeatedly invoke Jesus’ name or stealthily revolve around parochial Christian themes. Just recently, as a part of a national “stand-down” ostensibly meant to address the tragic wave of suicides that have reached tsunami proportions within the U.S. Army, 800 brand new soldiers at Fort Sam Houston in Texas were forced to attend a mandatory training session that ended up, incontrovertibly, as a sectarian, electronic candle lit, Christian prayer vigil . Thirty-eight of these soldiers (the vast majority of whom happen to be practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics), with the brave Staff Sergeant Victoria Gettman in the courageous forefront, swiftly contacted our civil rights foundation for immediate help. A federal complaint against the Army is now contemporaneously pending an ongoing official investigation.
Spiritual Fitness is a markedly destructive and corrosive agent that has the practical consequence of rampant demoralization, disorientation, and disorder within the armed forces. By endorsing Spiritual Fitness repeatedly, Petraeus revealed a total disregard for both the “No Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment to the Constitution and the “No Religious Test” prohibition of Clause 3, Article VI of the same. It’s no exaggeration – it’s a bare-knuckled fact – that Petraeus was complicit in a de facto mutiny against America’s most cherished and beloved governing document. This violation of his oath to support and defend that foundational bedrock document is a matter of import on a scale far greater than his foolish affair. That dalliance itself constitutes a high crime, if there is jurisdiction extant under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as an unforgivable security risk to the Central Intelligence Agency. Hypocrisy writ large by a now erstwhile, all so powerful man. As Noam Chomsky put it, “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”
As the record shows, the roots of General David Petraeus’ disgrace run deep – very deep. Petraeus’ established pattern of promoting Spiritual Fitness should have served as a blindingly clear harbinger and clarion signal of his fatal unfitness to serve. Petraeus should have resigned in shame the moment MRFF raised alarm bells regarding his unconstitutional treachery. Perhaps then we would have been saved from four additional years of his “extremely poor judgment”!