Unraveling the story of David Petraeus’ dramatic fall as head of the CIA is a process likely to rival that of any spy thriller.
All the ingredients are there: giant egos, extra-marital affairs and politics, blended together to produce a jumble of intrigue, false leads and much fodder for conspiracy theorists.
At this point, we’re happy to leave the sleuthing to Congress, military and other arms of the federal government to see if there are other implications to the affair between Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, the former general’s biographer.
So far, there are no indications that national secrets were revealed or that our security was threatened. That just leaves the raw emotion and ruined lives that such behavior can cause for the spouses and families —as well as a public image that no longer shines quite as brightly.
We see this as another instance where fame and fortune can feed an ego so that one thinks their circumstances are somehow so unique as to make them immune to having their indiscretions discovered. It’s a twist on “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
There’s no question that Petraeus is an intelligent and competent leader, a retired four-star general who was selected to lead the CIA after a distinguished military career that included the counterinsurgency approach in Iraq that has gotten credit for turning around the direction of the war there. He was then sent to Afghanistan to correct the course there. This background and his leadership qualities were seen as a good fit for the position of heading the CIA.
It’s also these qualities, people would think, that would have someone like Petraeus pause before sending sexually explicit emails to Broadwell under an alias. It was those very emails that the FBI discovered as part of its investigation into the harassing emails sent to Jill Kelley, a woman who Broadwell apparently saw as a rival for Petraeus’ attention and affection.
Yet, blinded by his ego or by passion, Petraeus was didn’t see pitfalls that should have been obvious.
We credit him for seeing that staying in the job would have done more damage to how the public viewed him, as someone who has built a career on honor and discipline. Americans don’t necessarily condone such behavior, but as we have witnessed, they are willing, over time, to forgive such lapses.
As for other aspects of this tale, we’re already learning that the top general in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, a Marine Corps officer who is in line to run NATO, is now under investigation for exchanging thousands of emails with Kelley.
It could be an innocent friendship, another affair or something else entirely.
Or we could see it as just another plot twist.