There is this to be said about Gen. David Petraeus’ resignation after 38 years of exceptional service to this country: What a waste.
Petraeus was the model of what the modern military is seeking in its top officers: a combination of warrior, leader, diplomat and scholar with a doctorate from Princeton. It is not exaggeration to say he was the nation’s most esteemed military leader.
Driven to succeed both militarily and intellectually, he became a brigadier general at 46, successfully oversaw the “surge” that allowed us to extricate ourselves from Iraq, moved on to U.S. Central Command that oversees global U.S. military operations and then at the behest of President Barack Obama accepted what was effectively a demotion to take over the faltering U.S. effort in Afghanistan.
In September 2011, again at Obama’s behest, he returned to Washington to take over the CIA. His resume and careful cultivation of Congress led to speculation of a political future, if not as a presidential candidate certainly as a running mate.
Sometime after his return, according to emerging accounts, he took up with Paula Broadwell, 40, a West Point graduate and Army Reserve officer who had written a glowing biography of Petraeus.
The affair came to the attention of the FBI when Broadwell sent threatening emails to a friend of the Petraeus family whom she apparently perceived as a threat. The FBI found that there had been no laws broken and no threat to national security but reported the affair to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who immediately advised Petraeus to resign, which he did.
An ordinary politician might have been tempted to ride it out, with the obligatory confessional press conference, the wronged wife standing stoically in the background and a boilerplate plea “to put this incident behind us, give my family the privacy to heal and get on with the work of this great country.”
Petraeus had no choice but to resign. The country, including several of its presidential commanders in chief, may find the military’s adherence to a code of honor and fidelity quaint, but the uniformed services do not. Petraeus was nothing if not a soldier.
The general and his wife of 38 years, Holly, herself an effective advocate for military families, will reach whatever accommodation they can. Petraeus’ career in public service is not necessarily over; this country does have an unwritten statute of limitations. Bill Clinton has been a senior statesman for years now.