CAIRO, Egypt — The sudden resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director over an affair makes me very sad, and quite angry. There’s something wrong with a political system that destroys men of his talent over a very human mistake.

Yes, I know he showed bad judgment and may have considered it a matter of honor to step down. But I think his resignation should have been rejected. Can our system really afford to lose him and upend the CIA, yet again, over such a peccadillo? Do we really have such talent to spare?

Petraeus was not accused of any security breach, and — as the whole world now knows — the affair was discovered only tangentially through another FBI investigation. This is now an unfortunate situation he must resolve with his wife.

But why, at a time when the CIA is crucial in anti-terrorism operations, and Petraeus so knowledgeable on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East, should the country lose his skills because of a personal matter?

Watching from Cairo, where guns and jihadis are passing through from next door Libya and making the Sinai into a new terrorist nexis, I wonder how Petraeus’ exit will affect the efforts to curb this problem. Or to deal with the influx of jihadis into Syria, or drone attacks in Pakistan, and so on.

Who can be surprised that, having served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, under incredible pressure, this disciplined general might have slipped up? Had he compromised security it would be one thing. But if not, why should the whole country pay the price for his marital sin?

The perils of false purity became clear during the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. Supposedly that mess was precipitated because he lied, but in reality it was a political vendetta. It backfired when many of the legislators who decried the president’s immorality were revealed to have committed similar or worse acts in private.

Shouldn’t we have learned to be wary of penalizing our leaders for sins of the flesh?

News reports say the Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper asked Petraeus to resign, and he agreed. I don’t know the details. But I do know that even those who criticized Petraeus as overly ambitious recognize the sacrifices he made for his country.

My many trips to Iraq left no doubt in my mind that the counterinsurgency strategy he promoted there prevented an even more grisly civil war, and ended the heaviest fighting. In Afghanistan, he did the best possible with the hand he was dealt.

Stephen Kinzer of the New York Times wrote a column last Saturday detailing the serial affairs of Allen Dulles, CIA chief from 1953 to 1961, in the pre-Internet days when such behavior wasn’t reported.

Dulles’ compulsive womanizing probably did jeopardize his work, unlike Petraeus’ folly. But reading this piece made me yearn for the days when national leaders were judged on performance, and their private lives remained just that.


Rubin writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer; trubin@phillynews.com.

You might also like

(2) comments

Cowboy99540
Cowboy99540

Dear Readers:

Paula Broadwell is an Army Reserve Officer working for U.S. Military Intelligence {"MI"} and, therefore, more than likely possesses a high security clearance to begin with that would grant her access to highly classified information / materials.

In that regard, I think the issue is whether the classified data / information that Ms. Broadwell possessed, which was also being stored at her home on a computer, conformed to the manner specified under Military Intelligence security policies / procedures that regulate the physical custody / storage of such highly classified materials?

I have a feeling that that condition may not have been met but we don't really know.

However, and based on what I have read so far, which is that the FBI and CIA haven't arrived at any conclusions concerning the issue of a security breech surrounding Paula Broadwell's possession and storage on a computer at her home could very well mean that she was authorized to be in possession of the material by either MI and/or the CIA.

I haven't seen anything so far saying otherwise while (as far as we've been told) there's been nothing found that would cast a negative light on General Petraeus in this matter (other than their affair) with regard to what data / info Ms. Broadwell had in her possession at that time of the search.

If that weren't true, I'm sure we would have already heard about it.

Cowboy

mikeylikesit
mikeylikesit

Petraeus was not just banging his biographer. Broadwell's computer was full of classified information that came from Petraeus.

The security risk that Petraeus could have been blackmailed because of the affair is significant. The fact that she possessed classified information from him was damning. Petraeus had to go.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Exchange ideas and opinions on posted articles. Don't promote products or services, impersonate other site users, register multiple accounts, threaten or harass others, post vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language. Don't post content that defames or degrades anyone. Don't repost copyrighted material; link to it. In other words, stick to the topic and play nice. Report abuses by clicking the button. Users who break the rules will be banned from commenting. We no longer issue warnings. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.