In the wake of Gen. David Petraeus’ resignation from the CIA after admitting to an extramarital affair, we’re all left wondering whether the leader we knew Petraeus to be was simply a projected image of what we wanted an indispensable military leader to look like. So how well do we really know Petraeus?
Embedded military journalist Michael Yon insists that the leader we all know Petraeus to be is the real deal, but he’s not without flaws:
David Petraeus has enemies. Many wish to see him fall. For example, years ago, a CIA officer confided an abiding hatred for General Petraeus to me. After the CIA officer explained the circumstances, I respected Petraeus more. The officer had a sack of hurt feelings after a combat disaster in Iraq, to which Petraeus, instead of offering a shoulder to cry on, said buck up, there is work to do.
In Afghanistan, I would see Paula at the morning briefings where Petraeus presided. She is connected within powerful circles, including within the special operations community. Access begets access, and once you reach a certain level, you no longer care about doors slamming in your face: every time a door slams, the concussion opens five more. Access is a two-way street. Washington has a million doors down thousands of hallways, and nobody, no matter how powerful, controls more than a single hallway. After you reach a certain level of access, nobody can shut you out. Paula reached that level, and Paula enjoyed playing with high-tension wires where a single misstep can pop a career like a bug zapper, slamming thousands of doors at once. Where this leaves Paula remains to be seen.
Conspiracy theories are crackling the airwaves. The timing of the DCI’s resignation obviously raises questions, but the atomic structure of the event at least is clear. Dave and Paula had an affair. Dave preferred to resign rather than be fired. What was okay for President Clinton is not okay for other government servants, and we all need to keep a handle on that.
No man is without fault. This fiasco does not diminish David Petraeus’s contributions to the United States, nor his positive impact on the many people that he inspired and mentored. Dave stumbled. He is fallible. Nonetheless, he remains a remarkable man with rare insights and much earned wisdom. After a decade of persistent sacrifice, he deserves a rest. When General (ret.) Petraeus is ready to resume, no doubt there will be a long line of people requesting his able services.