The Washington Post

Paula Broadwell, downfall of a great man, blah, blah, blah

More than a few shocking facts have become public knowledge since retired Gen. David Petraeus resigned as head of the CIA on Friday, citing an extramarital affair.

This, for instance, is a doozy where I come from: In Monday’s Washington Post, Greg Jaffe reports that in Afghanistan, “[p]rominent members of conservative, Washington-based defense think tanks were given permanent office space at [Petraeus’s] headquarters and access to military aircraft to tour the battlefield. They provided advice to field commanders that sometimes conflicted with orders the commanders were getting from their immediate bosses.”

And here I thought civilians in Washington were supposed to “listen to the generals.” Turns out, it sometimes worked the other way around. Tax dollars, I assume, were used to provide that office space and access to military aircraft to the same people who so brilliantly helped enmire us in two wars after 9/11; what could go wrong?

Here’s a smaller, but perhaps equally telling, warning sign from the same story: “At the CIA, Petraeus still retained a big staff and the perks of high office, including a staffer to accompany him on his morning runs when traveling and a standing order to ensure he had fresh, sliced pineapple on the road before he turned in for bed.”

Not that pineapple is the road to ruin, though I have heard it can lead to papaya. But the great man treatment so often yields not-great results that you’d think it would at least occasionally give us pause. 

One of the least surprising things about this story is that 60-year-old Petraeus fell for the highly attractive, far younger leading purveyor of the PR he so aggressively cultivated.

Another non-surprise: You’d almost think, from reading the coverage, that the former general was a helpless kitten with little to say in the decisions that blew up his career — and that, given his position, could easily have gotten people killed.

With Paula Broadwell, Petraeus let his guard down,” read one headline in The Post. In the story, an aide groused anonymously that “Broadwell appeared willing to take full advantage of her special access.” Wait, but who was it who’d given her that special access again? The woman did not take Kabul by force, of course, but by vixenry: “Those who worked for him never tried to leverage our relationship with him,” the aide continued. “It seemed to a lot of us that she didn’t have that filter.”

Glenn Close in Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction. (Courtesy Paramount Pictures.)

Maybe we’ll learn that Broadwell was a regular bunny-boiler; reportedly, the FBI investigation into this whole business began after she sent harassing e-mails to another younger married woman who she seemed to fear was moving in on her general. But, meanwhile, how predictable that we’d rush to blame her more than we blame one of the most powerful men in the world. As National Journal’s Matt Cooper tweeted on Sunday night, “From Martha Mitchell to Rielle Hunter to the present, much of the media, Beltway always eager to embrace a she’s-nuts theme.” 

That’s for sure. But our favorite Gmail-using, pineapple-loving general seems to have let his guard down in so many matters that we may well be lucky this affair ended his career when it did.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC. 



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Melinda Henneberger · November 11, 2012

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