By Mary Claire Kendall
It’s so interesting to see everyone piling on General David H. Petraeus, USA Retired, now former head of the CIA, for his affair, when the founder of the OSS (the CIA predecessor organization), “Wild Bill” Donovan, was known for his affairs, along with so many other high military officials. Not to mention our presidents. Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton leap to mind. Some had better taste than others. For instance, General James “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin famously had an affair with Marlene Dietrich. Bill Clinton... Not so much. (For more, see The American Scandal Tour.)
It’s not something to emulate or aspire to—and obviously Petraeus weakened and should not have. But, in our sex-drenched culture where women go practically naked and sex without consequences (biological, that is), is the norm, to suddenly strike this pose of “Shock, shock, gambling going on in Casablanca” is the height of hypocrisy and stupidity.
The only thing I would say is that he showed phenomenally poor judgment in allowing Paula Broadwell to worm her way into his life. Marlene Dietrich she is not!
But, think of the timing. It was 2006. The Iraq war was at its bloodiest. He was developing the surge plan, which President George W. Bush would ask him to command in early 2007, and then a seductive woman came into his orbit. He was a sitting duck—especially if this area of his life, ahem, was in need of some fortification. And, let’s face it, for a normal man, that area always needs fortification.
|The author with General David H. Petraeus, then CENTCOM Commander, shortly after |
"The Conversation" with him at the American Veterans Center Conference, November 13, 2009...
here's the link to resulting article, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/20/positive-petraeus-lessons/
Call it “General Combat Fatigue Syndrome.” He is very attractive. I know from personal experience interacting with him. But the woman has the main responsibility to maintain propriety, if the attraction is mutual, and to not do anything that would cause the man to weaken. For instance, working on a book alone with the General was the height of imprudence. Sure it might have helped her career, so she thought, but the primary concern should be protecting your virtue and that of the man, who has much less control. OK, so, I am hopelessly old-fashioned. But, that’s what I believe. If you really love a man, you will not put him in a compromising position.
As for the FBI investigation, the security issues were overblown, I believe. A West Point grad and Army reservist is not a national security risk. It was a personal matter, plain and simple, which is why, my sense is, the matter was not reported to Senate Intelligence as required by law. But let’s be clear. The investigation began in the summer. The notion that the President, and other key officials in the administration, did not know about it until 5 p.m. the night of the election, strains credulity.
Still, Petraeus did the right thing in resigning. As the saying goes, God brings good out of evil. He is very blessed to be in his current position, where he will do a lot of good.
As for being the scapegoat for what happened in Benghazi on 9/11, Petraeus is nobody’s fool. He may have shown incredibly poor judgment vis-à-vis Broadwell, but on national security he’s a pro.
In a short time, in comparison to Benghazi 9/11, L’affaire Petraeus will seem a quaint matter.
Postscript: The Washington Post had a page one article on Sunday, November 18, titled “The Fog of More: Do Perks Color Generals’ Expectations” which led with this quote: “There is something about a sense of entitlement and of having great power that skews people’s judgment.” – Robert M. Gates, former defense secretary. In response, General Peter Chiarelli said, “I find it concerning that he and others are not focusing on the effect on our guys of fighting wars for 11 years. No one was at it longer than Petraeus.”
Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based writer. She writes a regular column for Forbes.com, most recently "Doolittle's Raiders And The Miracle That Saved Them."