As if the incessant political campaigning wasn’t enough to sicken all of us, now the airwaves are filled with non-stop dreck about Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus’ illicit love affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus resigned from the director role when the affair first came to light.
There is a question as to whether the affair, which Petraeus and Broadwell have both confessed to, began when he was still in his previous career as a four-star general in the Army. If he transgressed while serving on active duty it would be a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Consequently, Petraeus could lose a couple of stars worth of retired pay if the secretary of defense or secretary of the Army chose to pursue the matter. A paycheck is probably the least of his worries, though.
There are troubling questions about whether Petraeus ever put U.S. national security at risk as a result of his actions during the affair.
The FBI investigation is ongoing. It was initiated when Jill Kelley, a friend of the Petraeus family and whose role in the mess is unclear, reported receiving threatening emails from Broadwell. If this proves true, Broadwell could face federal charges for making cyber threats. Details of the alleged threats have not been made public.
All of this comes in the wake of the recent assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, a politically charged event about which Petraeus was scheduled to testify before Congress prior to his resignation as director of the CIA.
The sordid, confusing tale of sex, deception and scandal that plagues Petraeus today appears to be snowballing, as the names of more alleged victims, perpetrators and other figures keep surfacing.
It’s hard to tell who’s who in what has quickly become a puzzling web.
The latest alleged perpetrator is Marine Corps four-star Gen. John Allen, who succeeded Petraeus as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Allen is currently the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces there. He reportedly exchanged “inappropriate” emails with Kelley. The situation is under investigation.
Further details have not been released, but we know enough to suggest that the entire Petraeus story is the kind of stuff that would make a soap opera writer quiver with excitement.
It is now questionable whether Allen, who was in line to become NATO’s next supreme allied commander Europe, will ever assume that role. On Nov. 13, the Pentagon reported that Allen’s nomination as commander is on hold pending the outcome of the investigation. This is extremely embarrassing for the United States and harms its already shaky reputation with its closest European allies.
While the media continue speculating on the Petraeus affair, about which it has relatively little confirmed information, it has overlooked something that’s quite clear.
There are other victims of this affair, ones that have been almost totally ignored – Holly Petraeus, David’s wife of 38 years; their children; and the men and women of the armed forces.
Like so many other military wives, Holly (the daughter of a four-star general herself) ran the household and raised two children for many years of her husband’s career. This included frequent, long periods of family separation so typical of military service.
Holly must now assume an even more challenging role – the jilted wife. She and her children will suffer the embarrassment of seeing a formerly beloved husband and father shamed before family, friends and the American people.
Furthermore, a question must be asked for the sake of national security. If David Petraeus was so unconcerned about loyalty to his wife and children, might he be similarly unconcerned about loyalty to his country?
When a senior government official occupying a position of special trust and confidence transgresses in this manner, no stone should be left unturned, no question unasked. Polygraph examinations of Petraeus and Broadwell are in order.
Perhaps harder hit than Holly Petraeus is the U.S. military, because there are countless victims. Even if the affair took place after Petraeus officially retired from the Army, in the eyes of many, he remains and will always be a four-star general. Some in the media have called Petraeus the most celebrated military figure of his generation because of his role in the Afghanistan war.
While still a young cadet at West Point, Petraeus was frequently reminded of three responsibilities. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur explained these on May 12, 1962, when he addressed the cadets at West Point, saying, “Duty, honor, country – those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
Petraeus apparently failed to grasp MacArthur’s message. He has shown himself to be the antithesis of the American military mindset that emphasizes service above self.
His actions have dishonored every American who ever wore a military uniform, not the least of whom is Petraeus’ son Stephen, a commissioned officer in the Army and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
How extraordinarily difficult and embarrassing this must be for him.
Americans recently celebrated Veterans Day, a time set aside to honor those who have served our country in uniform. Unfortunately, the reputation of the military, the most trusted government institution in the nation, has suffered considerably as a result of David Petraeus’ poor judgment and even poorer behavior.
The effects go well beyond the active duty force. Petraeus dishonored every man and woman who has ever served.
The damage inflicted upon the military’s reputation and the image of the officer corps will take years to repair.
Zachary Hubbard is a retired Army officer and a freelance writer residing in the Greater Pittsburgh area. He is a former member of the Tribune-Democrat Readers’ Advisory Committee.
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