Considering that, in the coming week, Petraeus was due to testify in a closed door hearing to the Senate intelligence committee about the September 11, 2012, attack on the Benghazi consulate in Libya, the circumstances are ripe for full blown conspiracy theories. However, in the spirit that there is a difference between journalistic digging and hysterical self-serving fabrication, the public and the media reaction to the developments on Petraeus' resignation could be just as interesting and enlightening as the resignation itself.
What is so far known about Petraeus' resignation is convoluted. Essentially, an unidentified woman close to Petraeus received threatening emails from another woman now thought to be Petraeus' biographer Paula Broadwell.
The woman who received the emails felt so threatened she went to the FBI for protection. The FBI investigated and in addition to finding the sender as Paula Broadwell they found explicit emails between Broadwell and Petraeus that made it seem like they were having an affair.
The investigation also lead them to believe the director's personal email could have been compromised, which posed a national security risk. Petraeus was interviewed and no charges were filed. The Justice Department eventually told National Intelligence Director James Clapper of the investigation and it is Clapper who suggested to Petraeus to resign. President Obama was informed Thursday and that same afternoon Petraeus offered his resignation, which the president accepted.
The story is so far mostly celebrity gossip magazine fodder, if gossip magazines cared about things like the head of the CIA. There is even talk that the husband of Broadwell sought advice in a popular newspaper advice column.
A story like this also invites all sorts of accusations of alternate motives that lead to national security gossip. This is where the coming hearing on the attack in Benghazi comes into play. Conservatives have been fishing for ways to blame President Obama for the four deaths at Benghazi for a while now. Many are now thinking that Petraeus' resignation was merely a way to silence him before he had to testify at the hearing with possible damning information on either the CIA or President Obama's handling of the attack on the American consulate. Indeed, Petraeus is not supposed to testify next week anymore.
However, that is a bit of a stretch for very logical reasons. First of all, the Senate can still summon Petraeus to testify even if he is no longer Director of the CIA. So think of it more as a “rescheduling” than a “cancellation.” There goes the administration's alleged motive to avoid the hearing. Second, if the administration wanted to avoid scrutiny of Benghazi they would have wanted attention called away from the hearings not towards them. Having the Director of the CIA abruptly resign right before he is due to testify about Benghazi would be and is sure to bring even MORE scrutiny to the matter. So the idea that they forced his retirement in order to avoid scrutiny about Benghazi is flimsy as well for the very reason of that we are now suspicious.
This is not to say that none of this is odd and that we should halt our curiosity. We should just be wary of immediately trying to make the story fit a narrative that had previously existed. Not everything that happens is an indication that we were right all along. We should not extrapolate every story so as to cast the usual people as villains and heroes. Doing these things risks us missing the real story. When suspicion is due it should be investigated but the most obvious answer is not always the right one. We should keep an open mind and be reasonable with our assumptions and with the motives of those we accuse.