Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Election Day - November 6th | Credit: Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America - Photo: 2012

US Election: Generals and Their ‘Pen Pals’ Hog the Headlines

By Ernest Corea*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

Washington DC (IDN) – There’s nothing like a real-life scandal involving a spymaster, who is also a bemedalled and highly regarded retired general, to deprive a big-time political event of major headlines, whether in the print or electronic media.

The scandal turned convolute, and the entire activity considered worthy of even more headlines, when the FBI informed the Pentagon that the retired general’s successor in the army (another general) had exchanged “potentially inappropriate” emails with the woman whose informal complaint to an FBI agent sparked the investigation that initially exposed the scandal.

Neither public curiosity about the scandals nor the news coverage they have generated raises them to a higher level of significance than the re-election of America’s first African-American president.

Barack Hussein Obama, who smashed through a race barrier four years ago, will be confirmed as the country’s 45th president by the Electoral College in December.  That’s a technicality: He has already secured 332 Electoral College votes to Governor Mitt Romney’s 206; a whopping victory and therefore also a whopping defeat.

Turned On

Very early in the campaign Romney, his advisers and other staff, urged voters to judge Obama on his record. They did.

In suggesting that Obama be judged on his record, the Romney campaign expected voters to be turned off by so much of Obama’s accomplishments that they derided. The expectation that their revulsion would be shared by a majority of “we, the people” was a false, ideology-based calculation. What they disliked, millions of American voters liked.

For instance: equal pay for equal work legislation, affordable health care, women’s health and related issues including contraception and planned parenthood, support  to aspiring university students, educational reforms, regulation of banks, and rescue of the automobile industry. And that’s only a partial list.

On the gnawing question of jobs, the Big Dog, President Bill Clinton, undertook repeated forays into “battleground states” where he explained with clarity that the recession which included unemployment was created by the Bush administration, and that no president – “not me, not any of my predecessors” – could have solved those problems in one term.

What has been achieved, he pointed out, was substantial and pointed the way forward. October’s job-creation figure (170,000 private sector jobs) bore him out. So the “jobs issue” lost its bite.

Additionally, Obama was by far the more attractive candidate: more open, more at ease with his audience, more concerned about the needs of the middle class and the poor, more supportive of women’s rights, more attentive to the aspirations of the young, and more respectful of minorities.

Romney drew large – sometimes huge – crowds at well organised rallies and they were obviously supportive of the candidate; they were also monochromatic. Moreover, rarely did one hear at a Romney meeting anything along the lines of what was unfailingly heard at Obama’s rallies all over the country: a supporter or more than one shouting out, “We love you, Obama.” Or “We’ve got your back, Barack.”’

Far Right

Romney’s secretiveness about his wealth, his off-shore bank accounts and the taxes he paid, turning his back on the transparency to which his late father Gov. Romney was committed, were exploited by the Obama campaign.  The Romney campaign, moreover, had no credible answer to the charge that Romney was a flim-flam artist who changes his political positions to suit the audience and the occasion.

Romney moved as far right as he possibly could during the primaries, to woo and convince the Tea Party goers and their ilk in the Republican Party that he was what he described as a “severe conservative.” Shortly after his selection as the party’s standard bearer was assured, he flipped-flop his way towards the political center, seeking to persuade independent voters among others that he was a moderate.

It was left to the Big Dog, once again, to demolish Romney’s claims to being a political centrist. Reverting to the down-home southern accent that he uses when the occasion demands, Clinton said at speeches in several “battleground” states: “Wow. Here comes moderate Mitt. Where ya been, boy. I’ve missed ya.” Clinton’s effectiveness on Obama’s behalf cannot be over-rated.

Romney’s political goose was really cooked when Mother Jones magazine scooped a secretly taped video which captured Romney dismissing almost half the national electorate as non-tax-paying, entitlement obsessed, dependent, victimhood-oriented moochers – takers not givers.  He also saw them as irredeemable Obama voters.

“And they will vote for this president no matter what….and – and – I mean the president starts off with 48 percent, 49 percent, 40 – or he – he starts off with a huge number.  These are people who pay no income tax…..  And – and so my job is not to worry about those people.” They did not worry about him, either.

False Ads

Despite such blunders on the campaign trail – and others including televised ads that were exposed as false by independent fact-checkers – the Romney campaign was convinced right all along that he would pull off a victory. They were not alone.

There were many other prognosticators whose forecasts made them fall flat on their faces. Prominent in this group, in a post-election list compiled by the Washington Post, were Karl Rove, a Republican Party strategist and, Joe Scarborough, a former Republican politician who currently anchors a morning program on MSNBC television.

Also making a wrong call were Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, George F. Will, dean of right-leaning newspaper columnists, and Dick Morris, a well-known political consultant. Gingrich confessed that he was “dumbfounded” by Obama’s victory. With the accent on dumb, no doubt. All of them now have four more years in which to hone their skills in “astro-politics” (or political astrology) in preparation for the next presidential election.

Also unprepared for Obama’s victory was the Romney campaign staff who were confident of victory even as votes were being counted and Obama was steadily pulling ahead. Romney himself was said to be “shell-shocked” by his defeat.  They were so confident that only a victory speech was drafted and a concession speech had to be put together in a hurry when his defeat was confirmed.

The Romney campaign was so confident and conceited about victory, that it planned an eight-minute red, white and blue fireworks display over Boston Harbor to celebrate the event. The Boston Globe reported that the celebration was timed for some time between 7 pm when polls closed and 12.30 am. Before the end point of that time span was reached, Obama had won re-election.  The display was dismantled and returned to New Hampshire, the Globe report said. Was this arrogance or ineptitude?

First Question

With an election victory safely in his briefcase, Obama held his first post-election press conference on the afternoon of November 14. As he had already begun discussions with concerned groups about how best to deal with critical issues affecting the economy, many viewers tuned in expecting to get some idea of how those talks were going. Not a chance. The first question off the mark was on the scandal of the generals.

That’s where the country is stuck, so here is a recap. To keep the narrative straight, a list of key players follows.

–The scandal-wracked spymaster: Gen. (retired) David H. Petraeus, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until recently and previously commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

–His paramour:  Paula Broadwell, co-author of “All In,” a Petraeus biography.

–The woman who complained to an FBI agent in Tampa, Florida that she received harassing letters allegedly from Broadwell: Jill Kelley.

–Successor to Petraeus in Afghanistan: Gen. John Allen, currently Obama’s nominee to be Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Untimely End

The presidential election was held on Tuesday, Nov 6. By Thursday, Nov. 8 the American public was avidly following developments – no, not of a shakeup in the Obama Cabinet. Eyes and ears were turned instead towards an unfolding scandal involving Petraeus and Broadwell.

The general won acclaim for managing a military surge in Iraq and, thereafter, and was said to be turning the military situation around in Afghanistan, when he accepted an invitation from the Commander-in-Chief to take over the top job at the CIA.

Now, however, after 15 months in that exalted an exacting position, it appeared that he had experienced a different kind of surge. On Nov. 8 his resignation was accepted by the president, and on the following day Petraeus informed the CIA workforce that

“Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.” (This is only an excerpt.)

The Petraeus-Blackwell relationship was discovered by the FBI when they began investigating an informal complaint from Tampa socialite Jill Kelley that she had received threatening emails that frightened her, allegedly from Blackwell.

The resignation and the untimely end of an illustrious military career was not the end of the story. On the morning of Nov. 13, readers and viewers were gobsmacked to learn that Allen and Kelley had exchanged some 20,000 to 30,000 pages of “potentially inappropriate” communications, most of them via email.

There could be more disclosures when the Pentagon completes its investigation of the Allen-Kelley correspondence, and congressional committees take a closer look at the Petraeus-Blackwell relationship.

Meanwhile, the country has to be governed, and the challenges it faces have to be overcome. In a clear signal that he will try not to be diverted from his responsibilities by the generals’ scandals, Obama scheduled a visit to New York on the day after his press conference.

He will see for himself how Storm Sandy’s impact on the lives of millions endures, and assess what the federal government must do to support state and local authorities. Scandals might erupt, but life goes on.

*The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.  [IDN-InDepthNews – November 15, 2012]

Ernest Corea’s previous IDN articles:

Copyright © 2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Photo: Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Election Day – November 6th | Credit: Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America

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