Skyfalling Petraeus by Shahid mehmood

The only four-star general I ever met was General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, well before he served as Pakistan’s military president. The memory I have of him is of someone who kept many aspects of his life meticulously compartmentalised, never allowing emotional issues to intrude into his professional life.
Individuals like General (retd) Musharraf have the mental need for several layers of reality, never fully revealing themselves but carefully organising facets of their personality that they want to reveal to others. The kinds of people who attain positions of extraordinary power share these characteristics. There is wisdom behind Douglas Adams’s comment on politicians, one that is easily applicable to generals: “anyone who is capable of getting themselves made president should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
Should General David Petraeus be allowed to do his job? He was certainly a capable four-star general. He is highly intelligent and dedicated. For many years, he was the face of American military might in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is strange why his resignation as head of the CIA because of an extramarital affair would come as a shock to Americans. He is not a victim. Distinguished military generals are not virtuous nor are they eminently good people. Generals like Petraeus have made a career in waging war. War is ugly and should be considered a collective wrongdoing reflective of a degenerated sense of patriotism. American General George S Patton once said, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”
Instead, it seems, Americans have turned Petraeus into a tragic hero — a battle-hardened soldier, who is not exempt from the time-tested temptations of human folly and indiscretion. Petraeus has become someone whose misfortune has been brought about not by some great wrongdoing but by an error in judgment. Scandal, it seems in the American press, is now defined as circulating “flirtatious emails.”
James Bond is no tragic hero. He makes errors but consistently redeems himself. The original novels, much darker than any of the films, depict explicit violence and sex. Bond is not complex. He is a narcissistic, pill-popping misogynist who enjoys pushing himself to the limit. And yet, Bond has endured for over 50 years, capturing the imagination of three-generations of readers and moviegoers. There are no expectations for Bond to be virtuous and as such, this makes him an honest protagonist. His pillow talk was never considered a security risk.
The American ritual of guilt and contrition is inevitable. It is ironic that Petraeus, who battled agents of Islamic radicalism, was forced to resign when faced with American puritanism. The American public is always surprised and titillated by the complexity of life’s temptations — the distinction between public and private blurred if not merged entirely in the press. Can a general betray his wife without being suspected of incompetence? Humans are complex. Complex people by nature are more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable individuals.
Bond is successful because he is not a complex character. He runs on animal instinct — selfish, brutish and sexually promiscuous. Lacking compassion, there are no moral expectations of Bond, whatsoever. When asked in Casino Royale if killing people bothered him, he replied, “Well I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I did.” In doing so, he has spawned a billion dollar industry with a quarter of the world’s population having watched a Bond film.


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