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THE READING FILE

Ten days ago, who would have expected "sex scandal" and "David Petraeus" ever to appear in the same sentence? But the broader issues go far beyond the merely titillating. Here are excerpts of thoughtful pieces on some of those more fundamental questions.

The wrong scandal

At the Atlantic, Robert Wright says we're focusing on the wrong CIA controversy. Read "The Real David Petraeus Scandal" in full at tinyurl.com/tbtimes-realscandal. Here's an excerpt.

When, in the fall of 2011, David Petraeus moved from commanding the Afghanistan war effort to commanding the CIA, it was a disturbingly natural transition. I say "natural" because the CIA conducts drone strikes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and is involved in other military operations there, so Petraeus, in his new role, was continuing to fight the Afghanistan war. I say "disturbingly" because this overlap of Pentagon and CIA missions is the result of a creeping militarization of the CIA that may be undermining America's national security. This trend was clear during the Bush administration, but it accelerated under President Obama, who greatly expanded drone strikes, and it reached a kind of symbolic culmination when Obama nominated this four-star general to run things at Langley. That would have been the perfect time to reflect on the wisdom of the convergence of the CIA's and Pentagon's jobs. But, instead, the network of journalists, think tankers, public officials and others who constitute the foreign policy establishment preserved their nearly unblemished record of not focusing on the biggest questions.

Bad generals

At Foreign Policy, Thomas Ricks ponders the Petraeus affair and what it says about us. Read his piece in full at http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/. Here's an excerpt.

We now seem to care more about the sex lives of our leaders than the real lives of our soldiers. We had years of failed generalship in Iraq, for example, yet left those commanders in place. Petraeus' departure again demonstrates we are strict about intimate behavior, but extraordinarily lax about professional incompetence. Americans severely judge some forms of private behavior between consenting adults, if one party is a public official. Yet we often resist weighing the professional competence of such officials - even when they clearly are not doing a good job. This is not, as some say, because we are a puritanical nation. Rather, our standards have changed in recent decades - and not for the better.

All gone

At his blog, David Simon writes a thoughtful, but decidedly vulgar, essay about sex as the instrument of a public figure's downfall. Read his piece in full at http://davidsimon.com/. Here's an excerpt.

Observe the process by which we remove some of the most essential American figures of the last century for having failed to corral their sexual organs in the marital bedroom: Roosevelt, gone. Eisenhower, gone. Kennedy, gone. Lyndon Johnson, gone. Clinton, gone. Martin Luther King Jr., gone. Edward Murrow, gone. Follow the gamboling penis to an arid expanse of sociopolitical wasteland, where many of the greatest visionaries and actors can never tread, a desert in which only the Calvin Coolidges and Richard Nixons remain standing. Anyone who looks at the history of mankind and argues that private sexual fidelity exists in direct proportion to political greatness or moral leadership is either a chump or a liar.

Nothing new

In the New York Times, Stephen Kinzer points out that Petraeus wasn't the first CIA director to have an affair, just the first to have it end his career. Read "When a CIA Director Had Scores of Affairs" in full at tinyurl.com/tbtimes-dulles. Here's an excerpt.

Allen Dulles ran the agency from 1953 to 1961, and he had a profound effect on America's role in the cold war. Together with his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, he exercised enormous power and helped overthrow governments from Iran to Guatemala to Congo. He was also a serial adulterer. Dulles was married in 1920, but he and his wife, Clover, had a difficult home life. She was sensitive and introverted, while he was handsome and charming - and a skilled seducer. His affairs were legendary. The writer Rebecca West, asked once whether she had been one of his girlfriends, famously replied, "Alas, no, but I wish I had been."

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Allen Dulles, who died in 1969, may have been, as one biographer claimed, "the greatest intelligence officer who ever lived." Yet by today's standards, this master spy would not have been allowed even to join the CIA, much less lead it.

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