Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

A combination photo shows Jill Kelley (L), a friend of former U.S. General David Petraeus' family, in Tampa, Florida on November 12, 2012 and Petraeus' biographer Paula Broadwell, in an ISAF handout image, originally posted July 13, 2011 (Reuters)

A combination photo shows Jill Kelley (L), a friend of former U.S. General David Petraeus' family, in Tampa, Florida on November 12, 2012 and Petraeus' biographer Paula Broadwell, in an ISAF handout image, originally posted July 13, 2011

(Reuters)

Margaret Wente: The right response to Petraeus's affair: So what? Add to ...

Spymasters are full of secrets. They know all the dirt on other people but they’re men of mystery themselves. They are experts at concealment, deception and double-dealing. They dress up in tuxedos and drive fast cars. Best of all, they get to have affairs with beautiful, hot, buff women who think they’re awesome.

More Related to this Story

That’s the job description in the movies, anyway. Real life is more banal. In real life, the spymaster is exposed as a cheating husband when someone hacks into his ex-girlfriend’s e-mail account. The fact that he happens to be the most heroic military figure in recent U.S. history is not enough to save him from resigning in disgrace over a perfectly legal extramarital affair that involved no national security issues or anything else of consequence. On top of that, his wife (a loyal, plain-looking, middle-aged, non-hot woman) is really cheesed. Life isn’t a James Bond movie after all.

I feel sorry for David Petraeus. He is the victim of a political establishment that is completely rattled and confused by sex. The right response to the revelation of his impropriety is: So what? If extramarital affairs were enough to disqualify people from high office, then the high offices of the world would be half-empty. His real mistake (as any decent spy would know) was to assume that the private e-mail account he used for steamy chitchat with the girlfriend would remain secure.

Gen. Petraeus spent most of his career on active duty, where he cultivated his ascetic habits and took frequent long-distance runs to keep fit. They called him the Warrior Monk. Then he met a beautiful (well, sort of), hot, buff woman who thought he was awesome. Paula Broadwell was the Warrior Princess – a West Point graduate and a fellow fitness nut who once modelled for a machine-gun manufacturer. Her biceps, which she shows off by wearing sleeveless dresses, look like baseballs.

She told him she wanted to write his biography. He thought it was a great idea. He invited her to Afghanistan to be embedded with him, and took her running until she was “speechless.” “He really cares about mentoring,” she told The Charlotte Observer. He cared so much that he even mentored her under the desk. On Jon Stewart’s show, she wore a sleeveless dress to promote her book, which bears the unfortunate title All In.

The torrid affair ended several months ago. Not coincidentally, a woman named Jill Kelley, a friend of the Petraeus family who lives in Florida, began to get anonymous hostile e-mails. Ms. Kelley, like Ms. Broadwell, is an attractive, married brunette who is 20-something years younger than the general. According to The New York Times, the e-mails accused her of “inappropriate flirtatious behaviour with Mr. Petraeus.”

Ms. Broadwell clearly thought Ms. Kelley was a rival. Ms. Kelley thought the e-mails were a threat. So she asked a friend at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into them. The FBI took this assignment very seriously. After much hard labour, agents traced the nasty messages back to Ms. Broadwell and accidentally stumbled on the steamy e-mails from America’s top spy.

Who ratted him out, and why? Conspiracy theories abound. But I think the bureaucrats simply wanted to cover their ass. Although they quickly determined that no laws had been broken and no security matters were at stake, everyone up and down the line was terrified of being accused of a cover-up. Better safe than sorry! So they passed the buck straight to the top.

All of official Washington must be shuddering today. They know that any kind of sexual indiscretion – even a consensual affair between adults – is politically toxic. They also know the FBI could be snooping in their e-mail on the least pretext. Worst of all, they know their friends and enemies around the world are laughing at them.

 

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular