eyes on the U.S.

From Bismarck To Bill Clinton, History Helps See The *Real Petraeus Story

U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus
Berthold Seewald

-OpEd-

BERLIN - The resignation of David Petraeus as head of the CIA means that we can once again play that great political guessing game that measures the gap between what's being said and the real reasons behind what's happened.

It is apparent yet again that moving out of public office is almost as difficult as navigating the road leading in. Making mistakes on the way out can lead to dramatic loss of points in the history books. Whole generations of historians, for example, gave the German Empire’s first chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) bad marks for not having set systems in place to prepare for the day when he would no longer be in office.

And now: Petraeus. The ostensible reason for his resignation is an extra-marital affair. Even if, as she happens to be, the woman – Paula Broadwell – is 20 years younger than the 60-year-old general, this is not really a very convincing reason in a society in which serial monogamy has long been the standard for relations between the sexes.

Nor can Petraeus be seriously worried at the prospect of no longer being considered by the Republicans as a viable candidate for future president. Former U.S. President and intern-seducer-in-chief Bill Clinton has, after all, long been considered a great statesman, and his cheated-on spouse Hillary went on to become Secretary of State.

What’s surprising about the Petraeus case is not what happened but the fact that he used it as a reason for resigning. Time-honored standard formulas run along the lines of “personal reasons” or -- as Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, former German Defense Minister, accused of plagiarizing part of his doctoral thesis stated -- a “political sabbatical.”

If Petraeus had been looking at his resignation from a historical perspective he might even have been proud of his affair. There are Biblical references to virility in aging men as proof of their suitability for public office. Leaders like the King of Poland, Augustus II the Strong, and French King Louis XIV, all voracious womanizers, were adept as they grew older at using their reputation for having hyper-active sex lives to project a public image of power.

Leaders don’t resign

During most phases of the world’s history, there was usually only one reason for a political figure to leave office: death – more frequently on the battlefield or by an assassin’s hand than a peaceful passing. Roman Emperor Vespasian, who had fallen ill, is said to said on his deathbed: “I think I’m becoming a god” – perhaps he thought he was moving on to another job. Some leaders, like the Emperor Nero or Adolf Hitler, didn’t have much choice other than to commit suicide.

Emperors, just like Popes, don’t usually resign, although there have been some flamboyant examples such as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1500-1558), who retired to a monastery to live out his days in prayer. Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-311) was less religiously inclined, and voluntarily abdicated to go back home to tend his vegetable patch.

If Edward VIII's abdication in England was perceived as scandalous, it wasn’t just because he wanted to sleep with the several-times-divorced (and American) Mrs. Wallis Simpson: it was because he wanted to marry her too – a very different thing.

If extra-marital hijinks were a reason to end a political career in a democracy then the list of elected officials and their appointees would change faster than voters could get to the urns.

Which leads us back to David Petraeus and his public rationale for no longer wishing to be one of the world’s most powerful men. It is quite simply not to be believed.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Future

How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.


Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ