Jon Dougherty: A Superpower in Decline


Did the lax and loose years of the Clinton administration, when a president denigrated his office, followed by the failure of the U.S. Senate to convict the President upon his impeachment, set in motion the decline of a Superpower?

What is going in many of our nation’s most prestigious institutions?

That’s a question millions of Americans are asking following revelations earlier this month that CIA Director and former four-star Army Gen. David Petraeus, who turned around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had an extra-marital affair with an adoring biographer.

The facts are still trickling in, but this much is known. Petraeus submitted his resignation to President Barack Obama within days of the president’s successful reelection, citing as his reason an affair with Paula Broadwell, a woman who had landed a book contract to write the accomplished general officer’s biography.

According to reports, it’s possible the White House, as well as the FBI and other authorities, were all aware of the brewing Petraeus scandal, but wanted to keep a lid on it before the Nov. 6 election, lest the disclosure hurt a president who has already been stung with several other high-profile scandals throughout his administration. That in and of itself, if true, is disturbing enough, for Obama, you may recall, once promised “an unprecedented level of openness” and “transparency.”

But trite political promises aside, what could cause the general who turned around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who then went onto became director of the world’s preeminent spy agency, to exercise such poor judgment, to expose himself and the nation to potential blackmail, to put himself and his country at risk – for something as trivial as sex?

Does Petraeus’ behavior suggest what many fear – that Americans are witnessing a total breakdown in the institutions that serve as the pillars of our society? For if we cannot even trust our CIA director to behave morally and appropriately around members of the opposite sex, how are we to trust the counsel he gives to our highest elected leaders?

Granted, lots of Americans have moral lapses in behavior. But they aren’t the director of the world’s top spy organization.

How long ago did the decline begin?

Some would trace it back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover who, as head of the FBI for more than 50 years, was rumored to have had a decades-long romance with his number two, Clyde Tolson.

But others point to Hoover as an anomaly, saying the decline really began during the lax, loose years of the Clinton administration, when the president himself denigrated his office by having a casual sexual relationship with an intern, and then lying about it, causing his impeachment by the House.

The Senate, however, did not convict Bill Clinton, and it is at this moment the decline may have been set in motion. The lesson scores of Americans drew from this sordid incident, and our leaders’ inability to hold a president to account, was that an “anything goes” mentality had indeed taken hold in Washington. To paraphrase a line from the movie, “The Distinguished Gentlemen,” being elected to serve in the nation’s capital was no longer about doing the right thing for the people, it was just about “being there.”

The decline has obviously manifested itself in the Obama administration. The list of offenses is long and growing; prior to the Petraeus scandal:

— The administration first bungled, and then lied about, what happened to U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed along with three other U.S. operatives when our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by al Qaeda-linked militants.

— In April of this year, unprecedented revelations surfaced that Secret Service agents – those trusted to protect the president, his entourage and family in an increasingly dangerous world – were entertaining prostitutes in Colombia prior to a visit by Obama, throwing into question the mindset of the agents and the security of the president and his detail.

— Shortly after Obama took office, his Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms launched the most dubious law enforcement operation in modern history – “Fast and Furious” – which allowed Mexican drug cartels to obtain thousands of weapons purchased in the United States, some of which were eventually used to kill U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. No one in the administration has admitted to any wrongdoing, but what’s worse, no one has been punished for this outrage, either.

What these scandals mean to our standing in the world in the years ahead remains to be seen, but what they indicate now is that our most prestigious institutions are in trouble.

And that means we, the people, are in trouble. When we can’t depend on those we elect – and those they appoint – to perform their duties and run their agencies in an honorable, moral manner, you have to ask how bad the internal rot has become.

The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor Jon E. Dougherty is a former news editor and columnist for,, & contributor at He has served as a policy analyst for Citizens United & Freedom Alliance, & is the author of the books, Election 2000: How the Military Vote Was Suppressed & Illegals. Jon has a bachelors of arts in political science.

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The Moral Liberal recommends Jon E. Dougherty’s Illegals: The Imminent Threat Posed by Our Unsecured U.S.-Mexico Border.