Powerful man, beguiling woman: The combination has been sabotaging national interests since the days of Troy. Should David Petraeus’ affair with groupie-biographer Paula Broadwell have forced his resignation? Sadly, yes.
It’s not a matter of Puritanism, which – take note, sophisticates – hardly saturates American culture these days. Although betrayal of marriage vows and a wife of 37 years reflects poorly on Petraeus as a husband, it’s the least of the reasons this distinguished soldier had to step down as the nation’s chief intelligence officer.
Far more important is the fundamental lack of judgment and caution Petraeus displayed in getting himself entangled with Broadwell.
As a West Point graduate, Reserve lieutenant colonel and all-around American superwoman, she hardly seems a treacherous Bond girl. Still, Petraeus let his guard down, an inexcusable lapse in a CIA chief.
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He potentially exposed himself to blackmail, and he opened a clandestine door into his affairs that might have been exploited by someone close to Broadwell. An intelligence official bent on carrying on outside his marriage should at least keep a few alert colleagues in the loop.
Indulging in loose-lipped communications on a common email account was a foolish performance all by itself.
A president must have absolute confidence in his CIA director’s personal integrity and judgment. Petraeus’ actions forfeited that trust.
This scandal keeps on getting spookier. The timing – just after the presidential election – is more than weird. There’s also the apparently political leakage of the dirt through an FBI back channel: An agent reportedly tipped off House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Oct. 27. The call was arranged by Washington’s Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.
Now the seamy business has spilled onto the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John R. Allen. He’s been ensnared in an investigation of his connection with a Florida woman who in turn is connected to Petraeus and the ubiquitous Broadwell.
So far, Allen is a sideshow. The real damage lies in the loss of Petraeus. He served the United States brilliantly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he might have done the same in the CIA. His blunder has deprived the nation of an invaluable strategic visionary at a moment when his vision is sorely needed at the top.
It’s a shame that this scandal will always dog America’s memories of Petraeus, just as the Monica Lewinsky affair will always dog Bill Clinton. Leaders shouldn’t be defined by the dumbest thing they ever did. But when it’s dumb enough to be unforgettable, its place in history is assured.