As new information floods into the public arena, it now appears likely that David Petraeus has been living a double-life, violating military justice and violating a CIA code designed to protect the nation from interference through blackmail. A man who clearly courts public adulation – one has only to see the volume of all those military medals dragging down his army uniform to know that a narcissist is center-stage – is now exposed to investigations that surely will destroy forever the reputation that he has forged. Now, perhaps, is the moment for David Petraeus to fall on his own sword in order to protect Army, CIA, and two Presidents from significant additional reputational harm.
From the very beginning of his career, it appears that Petraeus was set on a path designed to serve his narcissism. Petraeus first met his wife-to-be, Holly in 1973, when he was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Holly was the daughter of the West Point superintendent, a four-star general, who could trace his family’s military service right back to the Civil War. Was this a marriage designed to vault an ambitious young cadet onto an career path otherwise beyond his reach?
Holly surely did not think so when interviewed in 2008:
“I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t have married someone on the make.”
One wonders how she might now re-address that insightful question as she confronts the likelihood of serial infidelity on the part of her cheating spouse!
The adultery between David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell seemingly began a year or so after a casual 2006 meeting at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where Broadwell studied as a graduate student. Twenty years younger than the General, strikingly attractive, and skilled more for her athletic than for her journalistic skills, Paula Broadwell hooked up with Petraeus during a run along the Potomac River. Seemingly David Petraeus caught a common form of a devastating Potomac fever that has felled many an aspiring politician.
‘I think I passed the test,’ she would later say, ‘but I didn’t bother to transcribe the interview.’
In that respect, at least, she displayed a modicum of wisdom and common decency!
With the blessing of Petraeus, Broadwell decided to write a case study of the General’s style of leadership. To this end, she made a half-dozen extended trips to Afghanistan in order to to spend time with her lover, while interviewing members of his senior staff and field commanders. Those she encountered on this mission – other than the General – were unimpressed by her abilities:
“‘Her credentials didn’t add up,’ said a former Petraeus staff member who was interviewed a number of times by Broadwell. ‘I was underwhelmed. It was surprising to me that she was his official biographer.’ Peter Mansoor, a former executive officer on Petraeus’s staff, said he thought the general’s uncharacteristic confidence in an untested writer was ’strange.’ ’My gosh, if you are going to have someone interview everyone who has ever touched you in your life, choose someone who has written a biography or at least a history book,’ he said in an interview Saturday.” Joby Warrick, Ernesto Londono and Kimberly Kindy, ‘With Broadwell, general let his guard down’, The Washington Post, November 11, 2012
The General’s downfall was triggered by a growing suspicion on the part of Paula Broadwell, that her lover’s eyes had wandered to another target. In an attempt to close down the new relationship, Broadwell sent threatening emails to the other woman whom she deemed had moved too close to David Petraeus. The recipient of those messages felt sufficiently threatened as to seek FBI protection. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell. and uncovered sexually explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus saved into her files.
And the rest is now part of a developing story that will damage several lives as it fully unfolds. At least David Petraeus will fulfill a lifetime ambition. His name – like that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn – will be known world-wide, and he will be recognized wherever he goes. Whether he becomes known simply as DP is an issue that is yet to be determined.