Petraeus Deserves Our Disappointment, But He Also Deserves Our Respect

Clint Eastwood in movie poster for “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

 

Bounty hunter: You’re wanted, Wales.
Josey Wales: Reckon I’m right popular. You a bounty hunter?
Bounty hunter: A man’s got to do something for a living these days.
Josey Wales: Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.

The thing I took away from that terrific Clint Eastwood movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, 1975, was this: You have a choice even up until the hammers drop. One way leads to potential destruction, the other to a brighter future. In the final split second you think, “will I or won’t I do this or that?”  What you do hinges upon who you are and what you have been brought up to believe. Which way it turns out is up to you.  The bounty hunter realized too late he made the wrong decision with Wales.  Samson found that out the hard way as did King David.  So has David Petraeus (and Paula Broadwell).

And so have many people of all walks of life over the history of mankind. This embarrassing theater stars a beloved retired general and his beautiful mistress. But it is appearing that there might be more actors in this play including a highly respected active duty general and an intriguing socialite. And, believe me, there are also a whole bunch of subordinates who either explicitly knew most or all of the between-the-sheets shenanigans going on in the general’s tent, and knew enough to keep their eyes elsewhere.

I was reading through General Petraeus’s “Rules for Living,” and found myself honing on numbers 1 and 5 of his 12 Lessons on Leadership.

1. Lead by example from the front of the formation. Take your performance personally–if you are proud to be average, so too will be your troops.

5. We all will make mistakes. The key is to recognize them and admit them, to learn from them, and to take off the rear view mirrors–drive on and avoid making them again.

Probably one of the great understatements of the day is to say that retired Army General David Petraeus deeply regrets his actions with his biographer, Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Paula Broadwell. The general forgot the old adage that “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.”

What’s his reputation now? Brilliant soldier, dedicated patriot, disgraced leader?  History makes that call.

As the heat grew hotter and the G-Men got ever closer, at least the general took the high road and resigned his current command as Director of the CIA, interestingly right after the president was reelected. Timing a bit too coincidental, it seems.

History is replete with great men falling on their swords.

An occasional general or admiral having an affair (presidents too for that matter) is not new news. In my past as a Marine Corps public affairs officer, I served on the staffs of several generals, and often had business, and socialized, with a great many more across the Services. Although I can honestly say the great majority of them were quite pious in their personal lives, a few weren’t, and most of their staffs were fully aware. Just because one has arrived at a rank that parts the waters doesn’t mean that person is always smarter than those who surround him or her. Power can indeed sometimes be intoxicating.

Here’s where a few retired generals and at least one admiral, and a handful of colonels too, are holding their collective breath as to what I am about to write next.

Grab some air, folks.  Breathe.

Some things are meant to be taken to the grave, and I’m not about to launch someone’s next book. Suffice it to say that all folks are human, many make mistakes, but all need to genuinely seek God’s forgiveness. God sends no one away except those who are full of themselves.

We are what we do. Doesn’t matter whether one commands but the hoe in his own hand, or commands an army, or a federal agency. Virtue is a habit; I believe this to be so. Some of the smartest throughout history and unto this very day feel that they can do false or discreditable deeds and still “deep inside” remain good people, the same people. Can this truly be?  General Petraeus has to figure this one out. So does LTC Broadwell. Both of them had a chance to pull back, but instead they let the hammers drop.

Whatever takes place over the coming weeks and months, the tragedy of the terrorist attack at Benghazi must continue to be front and center for the nation, and General Petraeus must fully testify to all he knows. My guess is that he will. At the end of the day we must remember that it was his vision that saved a lot of lives. He deserves our disappointment, but he also deserves our respect.

I reckon so.