16 November 2012, 12:29

Petraeus scandal: tensions between Obama and Republicans grow

Petraeus scandal: tensions between Obama and Republicans grow
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In his first speech since his re-election as US president, Barack Obama has defended the former CIA director General David Petraeus. He said the personal scandal that led to General Petraeus's resignation had not compromised national security. The US military had revoked access for two women at the heart of the scandal. We spoke to Clive Webb, who is professor of Modern American History at the University of Sussex and asked him if the American public believed Barack Obama's insistence that the Petreus affair had not compromised US security.

It’s difficult to know exactly the extent to which Americans believe or disbelieve the government. There’s such a pervasive skepticism about the government these days. One can assume that there’re a lot of people thinking that there’re serious questions to answer. I suppose one of the obvious questions here is not necessarily about the breach of national security, but about the FBI investigation in General Petraeus and, in particular, two questions regarding him - why was Congress not informed earlier that the FBI was conducting surveillance of General Petraeus and why was this information not disclosed until after the recent election.

Indeed, do you think it’s going to increase calls for answers from Petraeus and Obama about the events leading up to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi?

There’s no doubt, the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is going to be an issue that political opponents of Obama are going to be pressing for further information about. Except for that specific issue there’re also broader problems that are occurring in the Middle East, like Israel’s strikes on Gaza, the Syrian situation which is spreading out. There’s a whole host of very delicate foreign policy issues that mean that timing of this whole episode has led to a great deal of turbulence.

This will have some impact on Congress negotiations on big taxes and spending tax coming up, as well as Obama’s plan for a Cabinet reshuffle, won’t it?

It’s bad to have some impact domestically. It will raise issues about sort of things, really. In particular, I think it’s going to affect the perception of CIA and of the FBI and issues surrounding funding, public trust. The timing course is very bad, it harmed Obama almost immediately after his success in the presidential race against Mitt Romney.

This kind of extra-marital affairs goes down quite badly with the American public. Could you compare this with any kind of other turbulence start to the American presidency in recent times?

The obvious parallel is with Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky some years ago. But it’s interesting to see that there’s a shift here. Back in 1950s Allen Dallas was CIA Director Head in Extra-Marital Affairs and it didn’t have any impact on his political career. One may argue that there’s been a shift here, in terms of public concern about this sort of issues. It’s impossible, ultimately, for public officials to be able to suppress this kind of information. So it’s very much the case that leading political figures are in the limelight and if they engage in an affair, as General Petraeus did, it will be out and have really serious consequences. But, I think the really important lesson here is the fact that no one is immune from the surveillance of the media and of any other governmental organizations.

Do you think the Republicans are reacting with glee to this? This is handed them in early advantage. Do you see them pursuing that, even to the detriments of U.S. domestic politics and the delicate foreign policy issues which you’ve just mentioned?

One would hope that cooler heads would prevail, but given this very tense and fractious relationship between the Obama administration and the Republicans over the last four years, it’s difficult to see that things won’t be complicated and Republicans won’t take advantage of this.

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