So Much for David Petraeus’ Aspirations in Libya

As I said earlier, the main gist of the Petraeus tapes–Roger Ailes’ attempt to get him to run for President–is neither shocking nor all that interesting (though it is amusing).

But I can’t help but laugh at the irony of this detail. As Petraeus tries to explain to a rather thick Kathleen MacFarland why he thinks the CIA Director job would be “a quite significantly meaningful position,” he talks about the Libya intervention. He starts that discussion by predicting that CIA will run much of what we do in Libya (remember, this conversation took place on April 16, 2011, just after the US ostensibly turned the Libyan war over to NATO, but six months before Qaddafi was killed).

Petraeus: Well, look, I mean, I can do math and reason, as well. But an awful lot of what we do in the future — believe it or not in Libya, right now, perhaps . . .

Q: Yeah.

Petraeus: . . . is what that organization can do.

He then tries to explain to MacFarland that the CIA is a national treasure (It takes Petraeus several times before he gets her to understand he’s talking about the CIA, not Libya or covert ops generally).

Petraeus: Well, so we’ll see what happens. Look, he gets to pick the chairman he wants, and the guy he’s comfortable with. That’s the deal. And if they’re uncomfortable with a guy who they know will be heard, then okay, so be it. That’s his choice.

Q: But you’re looking at something like the other one as potentially where you make the difference in Libya.

Petraeus: I think you can make a huge difference. I think that’s a national asset — I think it’s a treasure.

Q: Libya?

Petraeus: No, I’m talking about the organization.

Q: Oh, you mean covert ops.

Petraeus: I think that organization is full of just, heroes. Unsung heroes, which is the way they want to be. And again, so . . .

He then makes a more interesting move (most of which she again misses). “We’re not going to do much more,” says the Neocon looking for more countries to overthrow, but we “did Libya.”

Q: And I agree with you. With the Arab Spring, you lose or you win it on covert . . .

Petraeus: If you look at . . . we’re not going to go out, do much more, I don’t think — I mean, I was surprised we did Libya.

Q: Oh, that was insane.

And so if we’re only going to overthrow countries via covert means rather than hot wars, it means DOD’s budgets will be cut.

Petraeus: I mean, we’ve got . . . so if that’s the extent of what we’re going to do, we’re going to be retrenching militarily.

Petraeus: Again, you’re going to take big budget cuts, and it’s going to be all about . . . it’s going to be the post-, sort of the early 1990s kind of stuff.

And what’s the fun of being a top General during a time of budget cuts, after all?

But if DOD’s budget is getting cut, it will mean CIA’s budget will grow (this time it takes Petreaus four tries to get this through to her; really, does Fox pay this woman? She’s an “analyst”??).

Q: Yeah. It’ll be the “peace dividend” after Iraq, and after Afghanistan, it’ll be the peace dividend. Libya is a little bit of a screw-up on that.

Petraeus: Yeah. Yeah. But on the other hand, the other folks — on the other hand — I think are going to be in a growth industry.

Q: You mean Obamacare . . .

Petraeus: No, intelligence.

Q: Oh, the bad guys?

Petraeus: Yeah, the intelligence community, I think, is going to be . . .

Q: The bad guys, or our — you mean our intelligence community?

Petraeus: Our intelligence community. Going to have to be. I mean, there’s so much going on.

Effectively, David Petraeus was explaining his MOAR DRONZ policy to MacFarland before he even accepted the CIA job.

But he was also justifying the CIA job by noting that Libya would be where we “do” things, the next Muslim country to “do.”

David Petraeus wanted the CIA job because that’s where he could “do” what he had claimed to “do” in Iraq and was failing to “do” in Afghanistan. The next place to win glory, the shores of Tripoli.

A pity he fucked that up, eh?

I mean, while everyone swears up and down that the Benghazi attack had nothing to do with Petraeus’ departure, because his departure coincided with the assessment of what happened in Benghazi, it has elicited an assessment of Benghazi in conjunction with Petraeus’ two earlier “victories.” That comparison suggests that in fact, the glorious General may have failed three times at the important work of training local militias.

Moreover, while CIA appears to still own the next “do”–Syria–the fuck-ups in Benghazi now serve as an excuse to put DOD in charge of CIA’s job.

Not only that, but commentators are asking whether we really want CIA in charge of these “dos”–at least the paramilitary side of it–after all.

Petraeus was right that intelligence was the growth industry. But that was premised on the continued success of the Libyan adventure. And the last thing that happened while Petraeus had the “quite significantly meaningful position” of running Libya is that CIA failed in its central HUMINT mission, much less the work of keeping safe the State figures who provided cover for the CIA folks “doing” Libya.

It seems Petraeus looked forward to (or at least claimed to look forward to) the CIA job as a “quite significantly meaningful” place to cap his career. But just before he diddled himself out of office, the Petraeus-led CIA had a significant setback in that work.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

19 replies
  1. RAM says:

    I don’t watch FOX, so have not seen this MacFarland person, but after reading this transcript, if I had anything to do with retaining talent there, I’d fire her. The stupidity really does burn.

    And where did the “Obamacare” thing come from in a discussion about the CIA, national defense, Libya, and intelligence gathering? That would have been hilarious if it hadn’t come out of the mouth of someone who I take it is supposed to be informing the American people about this shit.

    MacFarland’s not ‘rather thick.’ She’s stupid.

  2. prostratedragon says:

    Must be an old boys ‘n girls network thing with Macfarlane. Juan Cole notes that she seems to have been flacking as far back as Nixon. Or maybe it’s just her/their way of getting him to spell things out in a possibly unnatural way for the mikes.

    Whatever, I’ll bet no one was counting on Marcy Wheeler to be reading the thing.

  3. jawbone says:

    I would recommend that MacFarland start reading more blogs, maybe this one. Add Moon of Alabama.

    I don’t get how someone like her is considered a reporter, much less an analyst.

    Dense doesn’t quite describe her.

    Unless it was a ruse to ge Petraeus to be more and more specific?

  4. bittersweet says:

    “And the last thing that happened while Petraeus had the “quite significantly meaningful position” of running Libya is that CIA failed in its central HUMINT mission, much less the work of keeping safe the State figures who provided cover for the CIA folks “doing” Libya.”
    This led me to an odd thought. Has anyone questioned “why” the Ambassador was left to die in a closet? If this was the plot of a spy novel, the next thing we would find out is which protagonist didn’t like him.
    Alternatively it makes me wonder if all this bluster about Rice is misdirection. Have I watched too many Bourne Identity movies?

  5. Ben Franklin says:

    The definition of ‘genius’ in this culture, especially the military, requires some perspective. When we think of who we elect to office, generally it is a reaction of disappointment we experience in common. Why is that”

    Aren’t these Mil/political heirs to their ideological gene-pool? Why should we ever expect the dross of metal refining to cease rising to the top of the slag? Our system of political process has reached it’s Peter Principle of rising to it’s level of incompetence. Christ. Petraeus just was smart enough to read the hand-writing on the wall. It’s a political game bought with dollars.

    We have, hopefully, grown beyond the need to excuse anyone who accepts corruption in government as anything but verklempt. It is time for major Election Reform. The current cap on funding under the Publicly Funded Elections guidelines is $20 million. That has not been adjusted for inflation, but should be upgraded based upon ad rates based upon the value of those past dollars adjusted for today’s

    Sorry to be off topic, That is all.

  6. P J Evans says:

    Now Faux is describing Macfarlane as ‘just a contractor’ who was getting paid $75K per year. Yeah, right. That’s why they had her interviewing one of their favorites.

  7. joanneleon says:

    She can’t really be that dumb, can she? I wonder if she understood a word he was saying. The whole conversation seemed to be, whoosh, right over her head.

    And what was he doing giving her all of that information anyway?

    Was she playing dumb just so that she could get him on the record being very specific? I don’t know. Seems more like whoosh! to me. Obamacare?

    Food for thought there on Syria and Iran. And who even knows where else. We need another list from Wes Clark.

  8. joanneleon says:

    Marcy, they can’t openly admit that the take down had anything to do with Benghazi. It’s too dangerous to admit that. That’s why all the layers of craziness, the reports to GOP Congressfolk, the FBI zealot given the info, etc. IMHO.

  9. Bob Schacht says:

    Thanks for probing a very important set of questions.

    “…the glorious General may have failed three times at the important work of training local militias.” Imperialists are usually satiated with a sense of their own virtue and wisdom. They/we usually don’t understand that we are an army of occupation, and no matter how much you sugar-coat that, it’s still an army of occupation, and “training” won’t transform the locals into the kind of thing *we* want them to be. I recommend comparing the transitions in Iraq and Afghanistan with the transitions in Iraq by the British occupation after WW I, and the transition in India, following the withdrawal of British forces there. Oh yes, I know, American exceptionalism and all that. But to become an imperialist, and act like an imperialist, we should not be surprised to be treated like other imperialists. Creating an American style democracy, it seems, cannot be achieved at the point of a gun.

    Why is it that we seem to value “genius” over “wisdom”?

    And if I had to choose between Petraus and our Libyan ambassador who was killed, I’d take the latter. He seemed to be everything that an ambassador should be, and to have better knowledge of Libya than Petraus ever did.

    But he did size up the Washington politics pretty well: Ending two wars is gonna mean budget cuts for DOD. The GWOT means more tasks for the CIA. Furthermore, with the CIA, you get a secret budget and almost no bothersome Congressional oversight. And if you lie to your Congressional overseers, the only penalty seems to be a “harrumph!” and a ruffling of feathers.

    Come to think of it, I’m glad Petraus is no longer the director of the CIA.

    Bob in AZ

  10. Frank33 says:

    The General talks about his infowar and his almost complete success at embedding the tee vee reporters.

    Every time The General sees Sen. John McCain, and the other 2 Amigos P4 thinks about Crazy. And The General was crazy. But BillO the Clown remains on Team Petraeus. Shep Smith, maybe not.

    Q: And you’re seeing it with some of the other anchors, where they’re becoming very skeptical. Like Shepard Smith is saying: Oh, right, we’ve heard that before.

    Petraeus: Sure.

    Q: I think that’s it. But I don’t think it’s an editorial policy.

    Petraeus: Yeah, okay.

    Q: And it’s a very pro-military — it remains . . .

    Petraeus: It is. I mean, Bill O’Reilly has been one of the. . . . He stuck . . . you know that old saying that — actually I say it also about the Three Amigos, [Sens. John] McCain, [Joseph] Lieberman and Lindsey Graham.

    Q: Yeah, yeah, and Lindsey Graham, yeah.

    Petraeus: Grant used to say, yeah, there’s old Sherman. I stood by him while he was crazy, and he stood by me while I was drunk. And every time I see McCain, I think about that. [Laughter] Because they stood by me when I was crazy. And so did Bill O’Reilly, actually. But again, I do sense there is a little — it is. You can sense a skepticism.

  11. klynn says:


    Well, it is not just Sinclair during this time frame-

    Petraeus, John Allen, William Ward, Carter Ham, Charles Gaouette.

    As I noted before, all branches are represented in the above list. Four are four-stars. (Or were.)

  12. a reader says:

    A quote from McCain, around the same time frame, April 22:

    “I have met with these brave fighters, and they are not Al-Qaeda. To the contrary: They are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation. We should help them do it.”

  13. Frank33 says:

    The plot thickens. Who was the rotten dirty scoundrel who secretly recorded this conversation? And McFarland, who is bewildered enough to be a social laison, says they were just having fun. Girls do just want to have fun. And the General also. Off the record.

    Who could be behind this secret recording? Rupert Murdoch of course!

    Today, I’m bewildered by the reaction of the press to Bob Woodward’s story in the Washington Post. Though Bob is in possession of a secretly recorded tape of my conversation with the general, he was way off base to characterize it as a serious attempt to get him to run, or to give him political advice.

    Petraeus and I were having fun.

    And Conspiracy Theorists are need to ask some questions. Such as was it audio tape or digital?

    Perhaps those same conspiracy theorists should ask themselves some different questions: Why was an audiotape created of what was supposed to be an off-the-record interview with just four people in the room, which General Petraeus himself said several times was off the record? I certainly saw no recording device, nor did I give my permission for the interview to be taped. So who taped the interview? Why did they keep it hidden away for the past 18 months? Why was it released at this time to a Washington Post reporter?

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