Two news stories I’d like to see this week: graceful exits department

I’m just waiting for the following story or something like it to appear somewhere in the Afghan press really soon … "Petraeus Expresses Concern for ‘Irreplaceable Ally’ Karzai" Kabul, April 10, 2010: During a news conference today, American CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus surprised reporters with a lengthy deviation from his prepared remarks denying yet again ...

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

I'm just waiting for the following story or something like it to appear somewhere in the Afghan press really soon ...

"Petraeus Expresses Concern for 'Irreplaceable Ally' Karzai"

Kabul, April 10, 2010: During a news conference today, American CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus surprised reporters with a lengthy deviation from his prepared remarks denying yet again his intention of running for president of the United States. During the apparently impromptu comments before departing to fulfill a "long-standing commitment to vacation with my family in Des Moines, Iowa," Petraeus expressed "heartfelt" concern for the health of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

I’m just waiting for the following story or something like it to appear somewhere in the Afghan press really soon …

"Petraeus Expresses Concern for ‘Irreplaceable Ally’ Karzai"

Kabul, April 10, 2010: During a news conference today, American CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus surprised reporters with a lengthy deviation from his prepared remarks denying yet again his intention of running for president of the United States. During the apparently impromptu comments before departing to fulfill a "long-standing commitment to vacation with my family in Des Moines, Iowa," Petraeus expressed "heartfelt" concern for the health of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Apparently, according to Petraeus, Karzai has recently been observed by "friends and family" to have become "so distracted by his deep commitment to supporting his NATO allies" that he has been increasingly absent-minded and clumsy. Petraeus cited reports saying that Karzai had "due to his commitment to democracy and battling corruption" on several occasions "stumbled and very nearly fell" near the top of long flights of stairs, open elevator shafts and in one case, an abandoned well. 

"Given our unwavering support for our esteemed ally, a man who has become like a brother to me," said Petraeus, "we very much hope that the president is able to cut back on his speaking schedule and devote more time to quiet work at home lest he risk the kind of tragic accident for which he would only have himself to blame."

After the press conference, while visiting nearby Kandahar Country Day School for what his official schedule described as a "Counter-insurgency Training Session" during which the General demonstrated how to kiss babies and chuck them under the chin, Petraeus said, "I’m a student of these situations and we’ve seen other tragic cases in which our allies have become so zealous in their desire to fulfill our goals that they suffer tragic accidents. You may remember South Vietnamese President Diem forgetting to wear his seatbelt and suffering such unfortunate injuries on his way to a late night picnic outside of Saigon."

And while we’re at it, wouldn’t the following story be welcome in say, Italy’s Corriere della Sera…

"Aging Pontiff Sneezes"

Vatican City, April 10, 2010: Cardinal Giuseppi Borgia, personal physician to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, revealed today that the Pontiff seemed to be coming down with a cold. According to Borgia, the Pope was "suffering from the stress of a busy Easter Week schedule." Borgia’s comments raised alarms among some Vatican observers, such as the Pope’s personal pastor, Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa, who said, "not only is he a very old man, but what he’s been through I wouldn’t wish on a Jew." (The Holy See denied reports that Cantalamessa was being considered for the position of official Vatican spokesperson-despite an insensitivity and tone-deafness to legitimate public concerns that would make him ideally suited for such a post. Cantalamessa, of course, is best known for last week comparing the attacks on the Pope and the church condemning endemic child abuse with past examples of "collective violence" against the Jews.  He is also reportedly a recent nominee for the Nobel Prize in Chutzpah given the Church’s historic role in actually fomenting that violence not to mention his stunning inability to differentiate between victims and perpetrators of crimes. )

Said one cardinal who declined to be named, "Poor old Ratzy. He hasn’t had it easy. First of all, John Paul II was a tough act to follow. Then there was the whole kerfuffle about his having been in the Hitler Youth, as if a young  boy should not have a hobby. Then, the media started unfairly ganging up on the church … as if priests shouldn’t have young boys as their hobbies. Clearly, it’s all the work of Satan because we have had Popes in the past who have been involved in much worse stuff-corruption, murder, wars, incest, schisms … the Inquisition for goodness sakes. But they didn’t have to contend with all these new media.  I mean "twitter" … what is that? A tool of darkness, that’s what."

Others close to the Pope, however suggested that  given his age and the likelihood that this cold could get worse, perhaps the Pope might want to think about an early retirement. Said Prof. Dr. Hermann Wilhelm von Richtoven, Director of the Bayerische Atemwegserkrankungen Klinik und Rheinische Rhinologie Krankenhaus and Personal Nasal Advisor to the Pope, "Well, you never know. He could get better. Maybe not. It’s all a crapshoot. But if he tries to keep up with his current workload, he could be looking at something much worse. Sinusitis, perhaps. Or a RICO conviction. I’d say it was time to step aside and retire to a quiet life of study and prayer. If he does, the cold should clear up in no time."

Said one high church official who, like the Pope, was involved in determining the fate of American Reverend Lawrence Murphy who was accused of abusing 200 hearing impaired boys who were under his charge, "you know, a sniffle here a sniffle there and before you know it you might draw the conclusion that a room full of weeping deaf children are trying to tell you something."

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.