And so, it’s come to this.
The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, is now firmly ensnared in retired Gen. David Petraeus’ sex scandal. It’s widely reported this morning that Allen’s career is in jeopardy for “inappropriate communications” to Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite whose complaints to an FBI agent about anonymous harassing email led to the revelation that Petraeus had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Already, that’s a lot to process. Allen’s involvement in the scandal, however hazy, led to the decision to table his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday for what had been his presumed next job, commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.
On one side, there are gleeful critics happy to take this opportunity to tar and feather both generals, even though the facts about Allen’s involvement in the scandal are still very fuzzy.
On the other side, there are defenders who suggest that any attempt by the media, Congress or other defense officials to question what happened amounts to a lack of patriotism and gratefulness for their service.
Hopefully, we can all agree there’s some middle ground on which a frank discussion about national security and military leadership can be had.
In an attempt at civilized discourse, here are five questions that need to be answered about the ongoing investigation and its second- and third-order effects. Please feel free to weigh in below in the comments section.
1. How much trouble is Allen in?
Petraeus reportedly was asked to resign last week by retired Lt. Gen. James Clapper, who stood above Petraeus, the CIA director, in the U.S. intelligence community.
Allen’s actions are still unclear, however. Initially, it was reported that he sent 20,000 to 30,000 pages of email to Kelley, a married 37-year-old woman. That would have been relatively impossible to explain. The Washington Post is now reporting that the email tally is something closer to “a few hundred over a couple years,” which could be just about anything, considering Kelley’s supposed involvement in military charity work.
Still, it’s hard not to take seriously Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to table Allen’s nomination for a new four-star post in Europe. It seems unlikely he’d do so without something raising serious concerns. How much more does he know?
2. What will Congress do?
Officials on Capitol Hill already were gearing up for hearings Wednesday and Thursday about the Sept. 11 catastrophe in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. As CIA director, Petraeus would have had a central role in handling the aftermath of that attack.
What now, though? A number of members of Congress have demanded that Petraeus still testify, given his role as CIA director before the attack.
Also, while Allen’s hearing Thursday has been canceled, it’s still expected that Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Marine Corps’ assistant commandant, will appear before the Senate in his own confirmation hearing. He was nominated to replace Allen several weeks ago before any hint of a scandal appeared.
3. Could Dunford be needed in his new post more quickly than expected?
The four-star Marine has no apparent connection to the scandal, and is widely considered a bright, articulate leader who can capably lead the war in Afghanistan in its 11th and 12th years. Defense officials say Allen will stay in his post for the time being, but until when? Depending on what emerges with his involvement in the scandal this week, it stands to reason that could change.
It had been expected that Dunford would take over in Kabul sometime early next year, before the annual fighting season in Afghanistan kicks into gear. We’ll see what happens with that soon. Panetta already has asked Congress to expedite its review of Dunford’s nomination, the Post reported today.
4. How does the scandal affect the war?
On the ground, rank-and-file Marines and soldiers are far removed from the personal choices their top commanders made. However, Allen had reportedly made recommendations to the White House recently about what the U.S. presence in Afghanistan should look like after 2014, when the war is planned to “end.”
With Allen embroiled in a circus, does the White House slow roll their planning for the war? Or do they forge ahead, even as the military leadership involved is both in turmoil and transition?
5. What kind of chilling effect will this circus have on how military brass interacts with civilians?
Military scandals have a tendency to lead to change. The 1991 scandal at the Tailhook Association Symposium, for example, led to widespread accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment against officers who were present, prompting resignations and policy change.
The scope of those involved in this scandal is far more limited, but it involves the media (Broadwell was working on a book while working alongside Petraeus in Afghanistan), charity work (Kelley was actively involved in it) and top military officials. It’ll be dissected for years to come everywhere from military colleges to media panels.
What’s the ultimate fallout?