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June 27, 2017

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Washington's revenge not violent, but certainly definite

There is a strong Puritan streak in America which demands standards of sexual probity among its politicians that would rid Europe of almost all its senior politicians, except perhaps Angela Merkel of Germany; and even the saintly Merkel put posters in her last campaign that emphasized her handsome cleavage. No American woman politician could afford to do that, although America is consumed by a parallel prurient appetite for sexual junk at a mass-consumption level.

But Petraeus was not running for public office. His affair ended four months ago. Nor was it much of a secret when it was happening, since young Paula was seen more often in his company than his wife of 37 years. There is much mystery about the "jealousy" emails from another woman with ties to American agencies that led to this "exposure." It exploded in public just after Obama was re-elected, or when he had become invulnerable to this mess. The official story is that Obama had no clue about the FBI investigation that undid Petraeus. It is hard to believe that the president was not informed that his CIA chief had become a potential security risk — at the start of the investigation, not at its end.

There remains the Agatha Christie in any mystery: who gains from the death of a reputation? Barack Obama. Petraeus was too iconic a figure to be sacked. He had to be outmaneuvered, at the right moment. His mistake could have been covered up, or even pardoned, since he had left the army, and CIA chiefs have more leeway than army chiefs. But Petraeus' departure deflects an immediate problem in addition to wounding any long-term political ambitions he might entertain.

The murder of American ambassador Christopher Stevens in a CIA safehouse in Benghazi, Libya, on the anniversary of 9/11 is shrouded in intense controversy. Someone has something to hide, perhaps for good reason. As CIA chief at the time, Petraeus must defend the Obama administration, even as his departure prevents him from shifting the narrative. There is also talk that Obama wanted Petraeus out as he begins a play for a deal with Iran.

And who is laughing today, possibly all the way to Kabul tomorrow? The Taliban, at whose expense Petraeus won so much glory. A Taliban spokesman could not contain his glee as he told an AFP correspondent in Pakistan on Nov. 15 that from a Pashtun point of view, America's hero should be shot by relatives of the mistress' family, and from a Sharia standpoint stoned to death.

Washington's revenge may be slightly different, but it is no less painful.

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