I am not scandalized by David Petraeus’ affair

The more I read about this matter of David Petraeus resigning as head of the CIA because he had an extramarital affair with his biographer, the less I care about the morality of it and the more annoyed I am with America’s thoroughly puritanical obsession with sex.


Gen. David Petraeus keeps a firm but friendly grip on his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

The guy cheated on his wife, which is, in fact, against the law:

An “extramarital affair” is illegal in the District of Columbia, where adultery is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $500 or 180 days in jail. It’s a misdemeanor as well in Virginia, Maryland and more than 20 other states, and a felony in Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. (source)

Fair enough, and if somebody (his wife?) actually wants to press charges, then he should pay his fine or do his time. But consider, too: Taxpayer money was not misspent. National security was not compromised. Nobody died. I am truly sorry for both the cuckolded spouses in this affair, but as a citizen and a taxpayer, I couldn’t care less about who the head of the CIA is knocking boots with. That’s his private life and his private business and what’s the big deal? Why all the clucking and hand-wringing and head-shaking about the “suspicious” timing with regard to the election and speculation about how there must be so much more to the story than we’re being told?

Frankly, we’ve been told far, far too much already, just as we heard too much about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a sordid but ultimately inconsequential consensual extramarital dabbling between adults that should never have seen the light of day, let alone the nation’s legislative chambers during an impeachment trial of a sitting president. I know: He was impeached not for his alleged sexual activity but for lying about it under oath. How many people would do the same if questioned about their own sexual peccadilloes, though? My point is, he never should have been questioned about it at all. It was nothing but a witch hunt.

Even the FBI concluded in their investigation of Petraeus that all they could really find was merely “human drama.” I guess we don’t get nearly enough of that in our own humdrum everyday lives so we scream for it from our celebrities, elected officials and other public servants so we can all enjoy the schadenfreude as their careers come crashing down.

Petraeus is one of the most famous and powerful men in the country, and his exceptionally distinguished four-decade career ended in scandal and disgrace because he had sex with a woman who was not his wife? Really? I’m not saying what he did is right or that he should not suffer consequences from it, but this public pillorying has gone too far.

Update, November 20, 2012: Adam Gopnik delivers a delightfully well-written take on this “scandal in search of a tragedy” in New Yorker Magazine.


Update, March 27, 2013: And so the public redemption process begins. Petraeus apologizes for affair, hints at return to public life.



8 thoughts on “I am not scandalized by David Petraeus’ affair

  1. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I do not care what goes on the bedrooms across the world. On the other, adultry is fraud. If he was lying about some other transaction while working for the public, I would want to know. The sex part is salacious, but it’s the character I’m concerned about.

    • While Petraeus is guilty of poor judgment and unrestrained libido, he’s probably still a fine public servant. The misdeeds of a guy like Gen. William “Kip” Ward really should receive more attention because he has grossly and shamelessly defrauded this country. The ironic part is that a lot of that fraud was on behalf of his wife. I wonder what the outcry might have been if the woman he spent all that taxpayer money on was his mistress?


  2. the fact is that he was in the CIA and was most likley told to withhold a lot of important information that is not meant to be shared. Knowing that he had an affair raises all the red flags. people are wondering what does she might know that he might have accidentailly slipped out. plus in some states affairs are illegal therefore resulting in fines to be paid. Great post though.

  3. Very well-written and I definitely agree with everything you’ve said. As much as he may have made some morally wrong decisions, it’s his personal business. That those personal issues should be a reflection on his entire career and whip the media into such a frenzy is something I find ridiculous.

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