A few days ago, one report on l’affaire Petraeus had CIA Director David Petraeus thinking that he would survive the exposure of an extramarital sexual relationship with his biographer Paula Broadwell. That idea received a round of mirthful derision, but a new report about Petraeus’ last days at the CIA suggests that his resignation had a lot less to do with sexual and e-mail indiscretions than first thought, too. The Wall Street Journal’s look at the fall of Petraeus focuses on the singular and noteworthy CIA timeline issued to defend itself in the debate over the terrorist attack in Benghazi, and suggests that the Obama administration wanted Petraeus out because of it (via Instapundit):
In David Petraeus’s final days at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, his relations with chiefs of other U.S. agencies, including his boss, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, took a contentious turn.
At issue was whether the CIA should break its silence about its role in Benghazi, Libya, to counter criticism that increasingly was being leveled at the agency and Mr. Petraeus, said senior officials involved in the discussions.
Mr. Petraeus wanted his aides to push back hard and release their own timeline of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and a nearby CIA safe house, seeking to set the record straight and paint the CIA’s role in a more favorable light. Mr. Clapper and agencies including the Pentagon objected, but Mr. Petraeus told his aides to proceed, said the senior officials.
By all accounts, the driving force behind Mr. Petraeus’s departure last Friday was the revelation about his extramarital affair with his biographer. But new details about Mr. Petraeus’s last days at the CIA show the extent to which the Benghazi attacks created a climate of interagency finger-pointing. That undercut the retired four-star general’s backing within the Obama administration as he struggled with the decision to resign.
The aftermath of Benghazi has been one of constantly shifting stories and fingerpointing, driven mainly by the White House’s attempts to shift the blame for the debacle away from their own decisions on security and foreign policy. For almost two weeks, the Obama administration tried to put most of the blame on a months-old YouTube video, and when that story fell apart, they immediately blamed the intelligence community for that claim.
That started an avalanche of it-wasn’t-us-it-was-them leaks from within the State Department, CIA, and Pentagon that finally allowed much of the actual truth of what happened to come to light, even while the administration balks at cooperating with House and Senate committees. The CIA’s decision to release an official timeline put pressure on Leon Panetta to do the same for the Defense Department, and left the White House walking around without a chair when the music stopped.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the CIA timeline is definitively true and non-self-serving, of course. But without it, we’d probably still be waiting for officials to go on the record to explain their actions before, during, and after the Benghazi attack, and we might even still be talking about a YouTube video.
All of this is an interesting context for Petraeus’ sudden offer to talk to both intel committees, starting tomorrow, behind closed doors. Petraeus may have nothing more to offer than just a personal recapitulation of what we know already, delivered to give Congress closure and end the distraction of his absence. It could also be that Petraeus has decided to up the ante and add a few more pertinent points to the CIA timeline, perhaps even including how he ended up backing the false spontaneous-demonstration story when briefing Congress. Lyndon Johnson once said he’d rather have a particularly annoying critic on the inside of the tent looking out (I’m paraphrasing) than on the outside of the tent looking in, and the Obama administration may end up realizing the wisdom of LBJ in this instance.