The Petraeus Moment Blots Out the World
By Tom Engelhardt
The former Cockney flower-girl turned elegant-English-speaker Eliza Doolittle caught something of our moment in these lyrics from My Fair Lady: “Oh, words, words, words, I’m so sick of words…. Is that all you blighters can do?” Of course, all she had to do was be Pygmalion to a self-involved language teacher. We’ve had to bear with the bloviating of almost every member of Congress, the full-blast PR apparatus of the White House, and two endless days of congressional testimony from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, not to speak of the flood of newspaper, radio, and TV stories about all of the above and the bevy of experts who are hustled out to do the horse-race assessments of how the general and ambassador performed, whether they “bought” time for the President, and the like.
And — count on it — that’s just the beginning. The same cast of characters will be talking, squabbling, spinning, and analyzing stats of every sort for weeks to come — with a sequel promised next spring. Everyone knows that’s the case, just as everyone has known since mid-summer that we would get to this point and, when we did, that things similar to those said (and written) in the last two days would indeed be said (and written), and that nothing the blighters would say or write would matter a whit, or change the course of events, or the tide of history, even though whole forests might be pulped in the process and it would be springtime for hyperbole and breathless overstatement in the world of news.
There has been a drumbeat of growing excitement in the press, preparing us for “pivotal reports,” a “pivotal hearing,” “highly anticipated appearances,” and “long-awaited testimony,” or, as both the Washington Post on its front page and ABC World News in a lead report put it, “the most anticipated congressional testimony by a general since the Vietnam War.”
Petraeus himself has been treated in the media as a celebrity, somewhere between a conquering Caesar and the Paris Hilton of generals. Nothing he does has been too unimportant to record, not just the size of his entourage as he arrived from Baghdad, or the suite he was assigned at the Pentagon, or even his “recon” walk through the room in the House of Representatives where he would testify Monday, but every detail. Somehow, when he refused to give interviews before his “long-awaited” appearance, lots of Petraeus-iana slipped out anyway:
“[H]e also has taken short breaks for walks with his wife…. for dinner with their daughter, who lives in the area, and for lunch with his wife’s parents. On his daily jogging route he maintains a brisk, steady pace over a seven-mile route, snaking from Fort Myer, across the Potomac and through Georgetown…”