Four decades of brilliant service to the nation end abruptly in a late Friday news dump over a consensual affair with a woman who neither worked for Gen. David Petraeus nor posed any apparent national security threat.
Why? In a letter, he writes, "Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours."
The woman is Paula Broadwell, author of a “hagiographic” book about him, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.” What remains unclear is why and how what he calls “extremely bad judgment” led to career self-immolation by one of America’s most admired men.
C.I.A. sensitivity or no, if the possibility of pillow talk were grounds for official removal, Washington would look like it had been hit by a neutron bomb.
Sen.Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, calls Petraeus' resignation "tragic for this human being and for the country...People are going to say he's a scapegoat for Benghazi and that's absolutely false," referring to the attack at the U.S. mission in Libya that killed four Americans. "I know what the personal story is. It is not a cover up."
Even so, absent any further details, speculation will be rampant. Meanwhile, the slavering should be tempered by recalling the 2007 assessment of Petraeus by Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, author of “Fiasco,” a scathing critique of the war:
“Just about the best general in the Army...Both a combat leader and the holder of a PhD from Princeton in which he studied the Vietnam war and its effects on the US military...he had a very successful first tour in Iraq in 2003-2004...
“Petraeus realized very quickly that US military training doctrine didn't really do the job. So he...reached back to his knowledge of Vietnam and counter-insurgency theory and operated very differently...
“He kind of had his own foreign policy even...The first time his division had an instance of abuse--a detainee being beaten while in detention--he basically shut down the division. He not only said ‘What are you guys doing wrong?’ but he looked in the mirror and said ‘What am I doing wrong?’”
All that while, Petraeus was asking, “Tell me where this ends” and six years later in the Obama era made Bush’s Surge work for an honorable U.S. exit from Iraq.