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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


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.

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Look At This Crap! The "Enshittification" Theory Of Why The Internet Is Broken

The term was coined by journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the fatal drift of major Internet platforms: if they were ever useful and user-friendly, they will inevitably end up being odious.

A person holding their smartphone

Gilles Lambert/ ZUMA
Manuel Ligero


The universe tends toward chaos. Ultimately, everything degenerates. These immutable laws are even more true of the Internet .

In the case of media platforms, everything you once thought was a good service will, sooner or later, disgust you. This trend has been given a name: enshittification . The term was coined by Canadian blogger and journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the inevitable drift of technological giants toward... well.

The explanation is in line with the most basic tenets of Marxism. All digital companies have investors (essentially the bourgeoisie, people who don't perform any work and take the lion's share of the profits), and these investors want to see the percentage of their gains grow year after year. This pushes companies to make decisions that affect the service they provide to their customers. Although they don't do it unwillingly, quite the opposite.

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Annoying customers is just another part of the business plan. Look at Netflix , for example. The streaming giant has long been riddling how to monetize shared Netflix accounts. Option 1: adding a premium option to its regular price. Next, it asked for verification through text messages. After that, it considered raising the total subscription price. It also mulled adding advertising to the mix, and so on. These endless maneuvers irritated its audience, even as the company has been unable to decide which way it wants to go. So, slowly but surely, we see it drifting toward enshittification.

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