The Petraeus affair: heard around the world


An Egyptian woman buys a newspaper featuring a front page picture of US President Barack Obama.


Khaled Desouki

BOSTON, Mass. — Some commend David Petraeus for resigning, others scratch their heads over the fuss his affair has made, but America's usual observers — the rest of the world — have plenty to say about the unfolding scandal involving the ex-CIA chief and a four-star general, a biographer and an apparently email-happy socialite.

From a market in Pakistan to a newsstand in Peru, people on the street have offered GlobalPost varied opinions about the Petraeus affair.

Here's what they had to say.



KARACHI — Since David Petraeus was appointed director of the Central Intelligence Agency, which oversees the drone program that's firmly opposed by Pakistan's military, there has been little love lost between the country and the retired general.

On the streets of Karachi, residents interviewed by GlobalPost this week expressed a mix of suspicion of the "real" reason for Petraeus' resignation, and admiration for his honesty.

In Karachi's historic Saddar district, two vegetable vendors spoke about the lessons Petraeus could teach Pakistan's leaders.

"For a man to admit that he was wrong, that he did something so horrible to his family is pretty impressive," said the first. "I can't believe that he would just go to the president and say 'I made a mistake' and ask for forgiveness."

The other nodded cautiously. "In any case," he mused, "self accountability is important. In Pakistan, if an MP [member of parliament] made a mistake, like for example, faking a college degree, you would never see them take responsibility for their actions. I think he's a brave man."

The two men had learned from an Urdu-language BBC News broadcast that Petraeus resigned his leadership of the CIA last week after knowledge of his extramarital affair became public. Both felt the affair wasn't a big enough reason for resignation, and talk in the market revolved around ulterior motives.

"We're hopeful that this means less drones," said Faiza Mumtaz, a student of political science at Karachi University who was shopping at the market. "Although it is the United States, and we're never sure that they're telling the world the truth."

Other shoppers agreed. "I think that what's more likely is that Petraeus and Obama had a disagreement on what they wanted out of the CIA. I mean, it's suspicious that the news about his affair came so close after Obama's election. Who knows what this is about."

The CIA's use of drone strikes has been extremely unpopular in Pakistan. Citizens believe they threaten Pakistan's sovereignty, and many activists protesting against the strikes view Obama's re-election with trepidation.

"I think that the one thing that we all know," said Hakim Amir, an employee of a wealthy Pakistani family who was purchasing meat at the market, "is that Obama is a huge fan of drone strikes. If someone were to challenge that, they'd probably get the boot."

Amir, who was born in Pakistan's northwest, blames the US president for robbing him of a family; his brother was killed in a drone strike last year.

In his first four years in office, Obama authorized nearly 300 drone strikes in Pakistan, more than six times the number during the George W. Bush administration, according to the New America Foundation policy institute. Since 2004, a total of 337 US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,908 and 3,225 people.

But one of the vegetable vendors thought perhaps Petraeus's resignation really was personal. "Maybe he was a just a man who fell in love," says the first. "I'd like to see a photograph of his lady."

The second one has a slightly different take. "The fact is that the CIA works in many other countries that are not Pakistan" he reasons. "Maybe he and Obama disagreed about one of those countries. Here, we don't think the drone strikes will stop."

Mariya Karimjee


CAIRO — Many Egyptians say the scandalized CIA chief’s decision to resign is the right one.

“He is very respectable for resigning,” said Bahaa, a 20-year-old arts student in Cairo. He said he vaguely remembers hearing about the scandal. “It’s important that someone like that has a good reputation.”

Egypt’s army gets over a billion dollars in US military aid — and weapons and equipment — each year. But unaffected by direct US military occupations like in Iraq or Afghanistan, Egyptians largely view the “Petraeus affair,” which has now broadened to include Gen. John Allen in Afghanistan, through their own local political lens.

More from GlobalPost: 50 Shades of Khaki — the John Allen-Jill Kelly emails

Discussing military and intelligence affairs, which are clouded in layers of secrecy, is largely taboo in Egypt, though last year’s uprising opened the security services to relative scrutiny.

What if a similar incident took place in Egypt?

“Nobody would resign — nobody resigns in Egypt,” said 47-year-old Khaled Attar, a retired police officer. “But the nature of the scandal would be different, it would be a much greater scandal in Egypt. In an Islamic country, religion plays a big role. An affair is not acceptable.”

Bahaa jokes that if Petraeus and Allen were to have had affairs in Egypt, “they would have been able to cover it up better than this,” he said. “Everyone would keep denying it until it disappeared.”

Largely opposed to US support for Israel, and the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Egyptians are not known for harboring fond feelings toward the US military.

But most are either unbothered or commend Petraeus for his resignation.

“I’m dealing with Mohamed Mahmoud and Tahrir Square,” said 32-year-old yoga instructor, Selima Barakat, in reference to two of the most volatile protest spots in Cairo, where her yoga studio is located. “[The Petraeus affair] is the least of my concerns.”

Erin Cunningham. Heba Habib contributed reporting.

More from GlobalPost: For Afghans, the Petraeus affair adds to fears of more unrest



PARIS — “Typically American” is how many French consider the increasingly Shakespearean Petraeus affair — too much public protest about what should have remained a private matter.

“It doesn’t change his professional abilities,” says architect Gilles Poirée, 39. “If everyone who had an affair were fired, there would be no one left.”

As for comparisons to Dominique Strauss-Kahn — the former presidential hopeful whose multiple allegations of rape remain a sore spot in French politics — most agree the Petraeus affair is a completely different ballgame.

“DSK is sexually obsessed,” says Poirée. “He has a sickness.”

Magali Sagui, a 27-year-old architect, agrees. “One is different than 150 [affairs],” she says. “This isn’t important — it doesn’t change his competence.”

“This is personal business that has nothing to do with national security,” says curator Marta Ponsa, 40. “What I do find shocking is how it’s been covered by the media, as though it’s much more serious than it is. Everything is manipulated.”

Not everyone agrees, however. The weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur defended Petraeus’ treatment. “We must not exaggerate the puritanical Americans,” the paper opined. “It is an undeniable lack of judgment Petraeus himself acknowledged in his statement. And that error of judgment is not just a question of morals.”

The main topic of interest in the soap-opera affair appears to be the tens of thousands of pages worth of emails General John Allen is reported to have written Jill Kelley, one of the two women at the center of the scandal. “That’s more than Balzac,” says 33-year-old copyeditor Marc Frohwirth with undisguised astonishment.

Philippe Pavageau, a 42-year-old photographer, considers the affair much simpler than others make out: “It’s all about the power of testosterone.”

Marie Doezema




Leon Valencia, director of the New Rainbow Foundation, a Bogota think tank, said that if Colombia’s spy chief was caught in an affair it would be a non-story because the private lives of public officials are considered just that — private. In Colombia, where machismo still reigns, public officials often brag to one another about their extramarital conquests, he said.

Still, the Petraeus story has received much attention in the Colombian media. A cartoon in the Bogota daily El Tiempo depicted a woman watching the news on TV and exclaiming “Too much CIA.” In Spanish “CIA” is the abbreviation for the word company.

As the scandal widened on Tuesday, one reader's comment posted at the bottom of El Tiempo’s homepage questioned why so much attention was being paid to “something that is more the norm than the exception?” Rather than resigning over the affair, another reader suggested, Petraeus should be tried for war crimes for all the Iraqis and Afghans killed by US troops under his command.

Colombians already know a thing or two about American sex scandals.

In April, President Obama's Secret Service advance team was sent home from Colombia's port city of Cartagena after they were caught partying with prostitutes. In the international media frenzy that followed, Cartagena — a colonial gem and United Nations World Heritage site which is the nation's top tourist attraction — was painted as a sleazy red-light district.

Taking advantage of the scandal to sell it's low-cost flights to Cartagena, Spirit Airlines unveiled an internet ad campaign featuring a Secret Service agent surrounded by bikini-clad women under the headline: "More bang for your buck."  

Still, one of the oft-cited reasons for Petraeus’ resignation — that his affair could have been used to blackmail him — rings true to Colombians with long memories.

In 1994, Colombian Army Col. Alfonso Velasquez headed a task force assigned to destroy the Cali drug cartel. The cartel tried to bribe Velasquez but, when that failed, a female cartel spy lured the married officer into a motel. A hidden camera filmed the whole amorous scene (link in Spanish) and a copy of the video soon turned up on Velasquez’s desk.

Rather than keep the rendezvous secret and surrender to the cartel, Velasquez confessed to his superiors who let him to stay on the job. The tricky part was saving his marriage.

To break the news to his wife, the colonel invited her to watch the movie The Firm in which Tom Cruise, who plays the part of a naïve (and married) lawyer, is lured into one-night stand. Later, corrupt law partners try to use photos of the tryst to blackmail him. After watching the film together, Velasquez turned to his wife and said: “What would you think if I told you the same thing is happening to me?”

John Otis


LIMA — David Petraeus’ abrupt resignation as head of the CIA appears to have baffled most Peruvians — although their take on the morality of the scandal may not be something most Americans are keen to adopt.

“It’s not as though national security was compromised,” was Lima taxi driver Hector Chumpitaz’s pithy analysis of the former general’s marital infidelity. “It’s between him and his wife.”

Newspaper seller Yovani Garcia added: “There’s no way he would have lost his job in Peru. Who cares who he was sleeping with?”

But if those views make it sound as though Peruvians have a more progressive perspective than Americans on the division between personal and professional ethics, think again.

“He steals, but he does public works” is a common saying in Peru. It means that corrupt leaders here are condoned (at least by some voters) provided they also achieve results, especially ones that can be measured, literally, in concrete — hospitals, schools, bridges and the like.

When I point out to Chumpitaz that Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell supposedly left him vulnerable to blackmail, he responds with a shrug: “In Peru, even when someone from the government commits a crime, no one expects them to lose their job.”

Simeon Tegel