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Generals' indiscretions have real consequences for U.S. policy

Armed ForcesAfghanistanArmed ConflictsNational GovernmentTaliban

Gens. John Allen and David Petraeus have been stupid in their misuse of technology, for a flirtation in the case of the former and an affair in the case of the latter ("Pieces of a puzzle," Nov. 14). As philanderers, these two men are abject failures, and if discretion is the better part of valor, they have shown none in their flings with two married women. Those who argue that dalliances should be perfectly fine among consenting adults and American puritanism is a rude intrusion in the private lives of public figures are wrong in their approach to this widening scandal.

These generals, salaried by American taxpayers, oversee many underlings and they are charged with holding their subordinates to a high ethical standard and moral code. They are ambassadors for America in far flung areas of the globe. In Afghanistan, the American military is risking life and limb working with village and small town leaders to diminish anti-American sentiments, build trust and bring hope. Our military's task is arduous because the Taliban has been one step ahead of the game to subvert the Afghan people and sabotage American efforts.

General Allen has presided over several incendiary and embarrassing happenings in Afghanistan. These have included Quran burning by American soldiers, numerous civilian deaths by drones, American soldiers desecrating dead Afghans by urinating on their bodies and the alleged killing rampage of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. The people of Afghanistan have paid such a heavy price in this war, the behavior of these generals seems all the more reprehensible and disgusting in contrast. To me, it exemplifies hubris, callousness, poor judgment and a total disregard for form, decorum and protocol.

Also, codes of military conduct have been applied harshly when breached by military members of smaller rank. In the past, gay military men and women paid the price by losing their jobs, retirement, health care and other benefits. If so much is expected of the lower echelon, does it not behoove the upper echelon of the military to be above reproach? To excuse the exploits of these generals as expected human weakness or the natural consequences of long tour duties in a dangerous war terrain is an insult to the soldiers who fared far worse either by dying or by being disabled for life in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When our soldiers return, the Taliban will try to overrun and erase the Kabul government and all our sacrifice and loss of precious life would go to waste unless we leave behind a strong coalition of government forces and local leaders to repulse the Taliban. Such a coalition can only be built if we are seen as dignified, just, culturally sensitive, tactful and useful. News spreads fast even in Afghanistan. In traditional and conservative Afghan society, American generals ensnared by sex scandals, especially this kind, will not only be fodder for voyeuristic fun but will also create real doubt that America is serious about its goals in Afghanistan.

If the allegations leveled against Generals Petraeus and Allen are accurate, the two men behaved like narcissistic children. Once more, we will be the laughing stocks of the world and the slogans, beliefs and assertions of America haters will rightly receive a hearty boost. There is no proof in the play out of the Petraeus-Allen affair that our top military leaders used restraint, considered judgment or forethought in their personal lives. Why should the corrupt Afghan government or the Taliban respect us after this?

Our international military misadventures have been dragged out with billions of dollars squandered, because our counter-terrorism and nation-building efforts abroad are vital to our domestic safety. At least that is the line our politicians have fed us. Surely, the Taliban and our other enemies can see what I can see — that the American military is sapped, weary and demoralized, the American intelligence service is out of control and the leaders of these two storied institutions have no moral authority to effect positive changes in the areas where insurgents are waiting to pounce on our soldiers. This is the true tragedy of this saga.

Our military, our intelligence service and our entire economy cannot afford leaders who are not focused on our national security goals and are instead diverted by siren songs.

Usha Nellore, Bel Air

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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