He was presidential material: The exceptional soldier, the four-star general who succeeded in turning around the Iraq war in its latter stages and made it possible for the U.S. to exit with a certain dignity — though still not victorious — from a geostrategic error of historic proportions. David Petraeus, prostate cancer survivor, made the transition to civilian life to become the head of the CIA, where in 2012, one year and two months after he took the job, he left by the agency’s back door, three days after Barack Obama won a second term.
The reason? It is in the great novels and in the little novellas, in good and bad literature; in common parlance, an affair, a jealous lover, an extramarital sexual adventure. This week, after having flown under the radar for the last two years, and after starting out after the scandal in virtual isolation in his Virginia home, David Petraeus started down the road to public redemption.
The soldier, who was compared to the greatest generals in U.S. history such as George Marshall or Dwight Eisenhower, agreed Tuesday to plead guilty to lesser charges in the open case accusing him of leaking information to Paula Broadwell, who is his biographer and with whom he had an affair while she documented the achievements of the alpha male with a chest full of combat medals to write “All In.”
Petraeus has applied the same intelligence and shrewdness to his case that he used to redesign the Iraq strategy, and has reached an agreement with the District Attorney’s office to avoid jail time and a long trial plagued by cameras and toxic comments on Twitter. In return for not facing the possibility of a year in prison, the agreement assures the four-star general of a $40,000 fine and two years’ probation for giving Broadwell eight black notebooks, which contained information ranging from the secret identities of agents, to his classified agenda, to his conversations with President Barack Obama.
With his admission of guilt, the rebirth of the phoenix starts — because there are no Americans who don’t like a good story of downfall and redemption, a story in which the sinner returns home to the arms of his patient wife — daughter, grand-daughter and sister of the soldier — who forgives his infidelity and comes to terms with the humiliation of having been cruelly compared with her rival, who has not succumbed to either the extra pounds or the passage of time.
The love triangle of David-Paula-Holly ― Holly is his saintly wife’s name ― went on to become a pentagon and even a hexagon, with the addition of another soldier, who, with Petraeus, added eight stars to the scandal. Gen. Allen, a Marine all lit up by medals earned in various wars, flirted ― platonically, according to him ― with Jill Kelley, a Kardashian-style Southern beauty, whose dalliance with Petraeus drove Paula Broadwell blind with jealousy, so that she decided to threaten Kelley in bellicose emails telling her to leave the general alone.
Faced with the threats, Kelley then turned to an FBI agent friend ― just a friend, although he sent her nude photos of his torso from his cell phone ― who brought the issue to the agency. When he started following the thread through the aspiring Kardashian’s computer, he discovered a gold mine of sexual gossip, revealing highly classified secrets and higher level meetings that put an end to Petraeus’s career. It also killed any chance for Allen to be named chief military commander of NATO, although he said that his retirement was due to his wife’s illness.
Today, Gen. Petraeus is now more than ever citizen Petraeus. He is in the hands of the civilian legal system, to which he is accountable, and to which he has to present himself for examination every so often. Celebrated in his day as the greatest general of his generation, Petraeus, in spite of the fall from favor that often results from adultery mixed with power, has in the past two years not been a stranger to the White House, which consulted with him through the National Security Council on several occasions about fighting the self-styled Islamic State.
He is considered to be the one who can get things done, the man who opens all doors through his connections. He is the soldier who could aspire in the near future to being the secretary of state or defense ― if he gets the call from the next president. He is currently an associate of a firm in New York that needs his services in Kazakhstan to raise funds, that takes him to a meeting with the prime minister of Japan, or that, with just a mention of his name, convinces Bill Clinton to film an advertisement in support of veterans.
“There could be another act for David Petraeus,” Jon Lee Anderson pointed out in The New Yorker two years ago. With his wounds licked, pious public prayer in the local church, his redemptive return to the marriage bed and home and his acknowledgment of his guilt before a worldly judge, America seems disposed to pardon David Petraeus. If Holly does forgive him, the ordinary people could make it happen.
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