National Security

Hell Week

What Pentagon insiders think about the Petraeus scandal.

In a trying seven days for the military, David Petraeus has resigned over an affair, Gen. John Allen faces an investigation that threatens his career, and a pall has been cast over America's senior officer corps.

Yet for an institution as respected among the public as the military, perhaps it is telling that the reaction among both rank-and-file troops and senior officers is stunned surprise that revered leaders could make such mistakes. The culture that puts its leaders on such high pedestals may be the very thing that contributed to their downfall.

But military circles are also drawing a big distinction between Petraeus, a celebrity and a politician who was both loved for his brilliance and loathed for his success, and Allen, who is generally well-liked inside and outside the Marine Corps, even if his nerdy lack of flash masks a cold ambition. And, of course, Allen has not admitted to an affair.

In more than a dozen interviews with current and former officers and senior Pentagon civilians, reaction to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision to launch an investigation into the e-mail traffic between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley suggests that most insiders believe Allen will be exonerated. They say it is significant that Allen has said, at least through Pentagon officials, that there was no wrongdoing and that he was not having an affair with Kelley.

"Anything inappropriate from Allen -- beyond a couple of overly familiar emails -- would be truly shocking," said one former defense official.

What they do call into question is Allen's judgment for extensive e-mail exchanges, regardless of their content, with a woman who has been portrayed as an ambitious social climber with direct ties to questionable charities and business dealings. Why would someone who has worked so hard to maintain a squeaky-clean image in the military associate with someone like Kelley, they ask.

Regardless, some believe Panetta may well have overreacted in calling for the investigation. It could cost Allen his career by preventing him from become Supreme Allied Commander, Europe -- the job for which he had been nominated. Adm. Jim Stavridis, currently in that post, was himself investigated for bookkeeping improprieties. He was ultimately cleared, but the investigation may have prevented him from being named chief of naval operations, as many expected.

"I'm all for going after the brass, but this could turn out to be a real miscarriage," the official said of the Allen investigation.

"There is nobody straighter than John Allen," said one active-duty Army general, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation. "He may have said something flirtatiously in e-mails, but that is the southern gentleman," the officer said. "The investigation will show what it is."

As much as the scandal has shocked the military, many officers welcome the ethics review of senior military officers that Panetta announced Thursday.

"I think at this point given what we've seen in the last many days, weeks and months, it's a good time to take a step back and assess where we're at in the general officer corps, the ethics training that is given, and do a self-evaluation of the institution," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin "Randy" Mixon. Mixon was the commander of U.S. Army Pacific and understands the ethical rules by which three-star commanders must abide and the traps they are taught to avoid.

"I knew Gen. Petraeus very well," Mixon said, adding that he is "completely saddened" by the news of the affair, which he claimed was "totally uncharacteristic from what I know of him for many years. I'm dumfounded by it, quite frankly."

All general officers are taught early and often the ethical standards they must uphold, Mixon said. And, in a world where subordinates must obey their superiors, generals are taught to avoid the possible appearance of wrongdoing, as well as wrongdoing itself. Every time Mixon's wife joined him on foreign travels, he insisted legal counsel approve her moves, not only to abide by the rules but also to show they were aboveboard.

Mixon said he was always very careful with his words and the impression he would leave, especially around women. "You're definitely more visible at that level," he said, of being a three-star general. "I was always very cautious about not becoming too familiar with people that I dealt with, particularly females that might be doing an interview."

Still, Mixon feels the Petraeus and Allen cases are extraordinary anomalies and rejects assertions that there's a bad boy climate pervasive among the upper ranks. "I don't think that's the case at all," he said, "but you have to remember that we're all human and we can make mistakes, and unfortunately this was a huge one.

Some individuals who claim to have seen some of the emails between Allen and Kelley say they contain nothing more damning than some overly familiar back-and-forth with an attractive young woman. Other Marine generals are said to think that Allen's use of the word "sweetheart" is just the usual banter of a man who grew up in Warrenton, Virginia.

One retired Marine general said the White House was being too cautious. Fearing the administration would be accused of a lack of transparency about the FBI's investigation of Petraeus, Obama's Pentagon announced the Allen inquiry and put his nomination on hold so as "not to get burned."

"This is one where they probably should have done a little more homework on before announcing," he said.

Indeed, the White House, Panetta, and even Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have all appeared to defend Allen, almost as if they were walking back the initial decision to investigate the matter. That said, officials familiar with the investigation have said Panetta was well aware of the implications the investigation could have on Allen's career and reputation but thought there was enough evidence to start it anyway.

Dempsey had fought to get an Army general nominated to the high-profile NATO job in Europe for which Allen, a Marine, was nominated. This week, he gave only faint praise for the nomination, supporting the war commander but leaving room for himself if anything untoward is found.

"We have John Allen scheduled to become the [NATO and Europe] commander, and I wouldn't want him to miss that opportunity unless there is reason for that to happen," Dempsey said in an interview with American Forces Press Service, the Pentagon's internal news service, while in Asia. "I don't see that at this point, but I see this investigation and how long it could take affecting that."

In the Pentagon, staffers are still shaking their heads trying to make sense of whether the current allegations regarding both Allen and Petraeus are crimes or just transgressions. But as the salacious details have emerged over recent days, the bottom line for some is whether national security was at risk.

"It's what I don't know that makes me wonder," said one Pentagon staffer. "Given all the reports and stuff like that I'm just shaking my head and going, ‘Ok, if there's more to it and it sounds like there might be, I'm concerned about the [classified] information" that has been inappropriately handled.

Classified information has been found on the home computer of Paula Broadwell, the woman with whom Petraeus has admitted to a having an affair, and her messages to Kelley detailed comings and goings of generals at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Florida.

"Does this go beyond simply bad decisions about personal behavior, does it also go to criminal activity or concern criminal activity," said the staffer, who believes that Broadwell, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, should be brought up on charges if she mishandled classified information. "You're not allowed to take things home."

Meanwhile, the issue of just what a "social liaison" is and how Kelley worked her way into the inner circle of Centcom brass without being properly vetted by otherwise security-conscious military personnel, baffled the staffer. "For DOD, I would think that they would start talking about those kind of [community outreach] programs" that draw social liaisons into the military community.

"There's nothing written that even covers any of that kind of stuff," said the source, of the need for the military to establish standards and behavioral guidelines for so-called civic leaders that are frequently asked to participate in and organize fundraisers at military bases.

Panetta's ethics review will in some ways be redundant. General and flag officers are already trained to know right from wrong. "The key here isn't that they don't know the rules, they get plenty of training on the rules," said a retired Navy one-star with extensive experience working for senior-most military officers.

Rather, the key is to ensure that top leaders are surrounding themselves not with yes-men, but with people who are empowered and capable of telling senior officers what to do and what not to do. "You have to have people who come in and shut the door and tell you, ‘I know this is innocuous but you have to be careful of the impression here,'" the admiral said. "Senior leaders can slide down a slippery slope where they don't know what they're doing."

Allen will remain commander of ISAF in Kabul until the Senate acts on the nomination for Gen. Joe Dunford, who is assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. If confirmed, he could head to Kabul by early winter to relieve Allen of his command. According to current regulations, after 60 days Allen would either have to be re-nominated for the job in Europe or another job, or his rank would revert to two-stars. At that time, only Panetta or his successor could determine the level at which Allen would retire.

Feature

Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

The Expendables, by William Langewiesche. Vanity Fair.

Life in the French Foreign Legion, a motley fighting force unlike any other.

What man has not considered climbing onto a motorcycle and heading south? The Legion can be like that for some. Currently it employs 7,286 enlisted men, including non-commissioned officers. Over just the past two decades they have been deployed to Bosnia, Cambodia, Chad, both Congos, Djibouti, French Guiana, Gabon, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Kuwait, Rwanda, and Somalia. Recently they have fought in Afghanistan, as members of the French contingent. There is no other force in the world today that has known so much war for so long. A significant number of the men are fugitives from the law, living under assumed names, with their actual identities closely protected by the Legion. People are driven to join the Legion as much as they are drawn to it. That went for every recruit I met on the farm.

PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP/Getty Images

The Last Laughing Death, by Jo Chandler. The Global Mail.

A 50-year medical riddle in Papua New Guinea, the man who made solving it his life's work, and the medical breakthroughs -- including insights into mad cow disease, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's -- this work made possible.

Alpers remembers the tragedy all too well. In medical literature, the investigation of this "extraordinary disease... will continue to have long-standing significance for neurology, infectious disease and public health", as papers to the landmark Royal Society kuru meeting in London in 2008 observed. But for Alpers it is a story populated by individuals with names and faces, children and mothers he tended and held in his arms in the days and weeks before they died, some of whom he cut open within hours of their deaths, searching for the truth of the powerful agent that had claimed them.

TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

Going Souterrain, by Will Hunt. Intelligent Life.

Traversing Paris's parallel universe of tunnels, caverns and catacombs with six urban explorers.

Parisians say their city, with all of its perforations, is like a wedge of Gruyère cheese and nowhere is so holey as the catacombs. They are a vast, earthy labyrinth, 320km (200 miles) of tunnels, mainly on the Left Bank of the Seine. Some of the tunnels are flooded, half-collapsed, riddled with sinkholes, others are finished with neatly mortared brick, spiral staircases and elegant archways. These were the quarries that supplied the limestone blocks that make up the grand buildings along the Seine, 18 metres (60 feet) above our heads. The oldest had been carved to construct the Roman city of Lutetia, traces of which can still be found in the city's Latin Quarter. Over the centuries, as the city expanded, quarrymen brought more limestone to the surface, and the underground warren spread like the roots of a great tree.

PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/GettyImages

Last Champions of the Third Reich, by Noah Davis. SB Nation.

The story of the 1944 German national soccer championship game.

As Schön prepared to lead his club on to the field, Olympic Stadium -- a massive monolith that seated up to 100,000 screaming fans -- remained an important symbol, the only place left in the crumbling empire that could hold the match and provide a measure of symbolism for the country's leadership, linking it to a time when the future of the Third Reich seemed limitless. Hitler had opened the 1936 Games with a rousing speech in the hulking structure designed for the event by the architect brothers Werner and Walter March. Now, for propaganda purposes, the government needed to have the final played in the same place it had been held since 1936, for even as the iron grasp of the Third Reich loosened around Europe, Nazi ideals still held strong inside the stadium's 40-foot tall limestone walls. The grand setting allowed an alternative narrative to exist, a fantasy, one where things were not as bad as they seemed.

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Think Again: The BRICS, Antoine Van Agtmael. Foreign Policy.

On the financial influence of BRICS-an economic association between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- who collectively claim 40 percent of the world's population, and 20  percent of global GDP.

Until the beginning of the 1990s, Russia was still behind the Iron Curtain, China was recovering from the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square unrest, India remained a bureaucratic nightmare, and Brazil experienced bouts of hyperinflation combined with a decade of lost growth. These countries had largely muddled along outside the global market economy; their economic policies had often been nothing short of disastrous; and their stock markets were nonexistent, bureaucratic, or supervolatile. Each needed to experience deep, life-threatening crises that would catapult them onto a different road of development. Once they did, they tapped into their vast economic potential. Their total GDP of close to $14 trillion now nearly equals that of the United States and is even bigger on a purchasing power parity basis.

ROBERTO STUCKERT FILHO/AFP/GettyImages