Petraeus Fiasco Highlights the Danger of Hero Worship

Lo how the mighty have fallen:

The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors have recommended bringing felony charges against David H. Petraeus, contending that he provided classified information to a lover while he was director of the C.I.A., officials said, leaving Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to decide whether to seek an indictment that could send the pre-eminent military officer of his generation to prison.

The Justice Department investigation stems from an affair Mr. Petraeus had with Paula Broadwell, an Army Reserve officer who was writing his biography, and focuses on whether he gave her access to his C.I.A. email account and other highly classified information.

F.B.I. agents discovered classified documents on her computer after Mr. Petraeus resigned from the C.I.A. in 2012 when the affair became public.

It wasn’t quite so long ago that Congress saw the need to censure MoveOn.org’s childish “Betray Us” ad in order to “strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus.” It turns out that the honor and integrity quotient wasn’t that high after all, not just in his personal life but also as matter of national security.

Human fallibility shouldn’t exactly be a shocking lesson to smart people. It’s one thing to tut-tut insensitive messages. It’s another thing to put a human being on a pedestal and insist that anyone is above attacks on their honor and integrity. General Petraeus clearly wasn’t, and it’s more than a little ironic that he’s now in danger of felony charges for actually betraying national security secrets.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.