What was she like? Professional, relaxed and clearly excited about the material she had for me in her big, comfortable house in a stately North Carolina neighborhood. She spoke with great affection about her husband, a surgical radiologist whom she’d met in the military, and her two young sons, whom she clearly adores.
We began our work as Petraeus was assuming command of a faltering war effort. Broadwell began reporting, relying on extensive military contacts, among them numerous members of Petraeus’s inner circle. She made her first of four or five lengthy reporting trips to Afghanistan in the late summer of 2010, somehow managing to juggle her responsibilities as a mother of two small boys with trips to a war zone.
As someone who has found himself closer than I ever wanted to be to incoming fire, I was impressed by her energy and commitment to the book. My role was far less dramatic: I sat in my basement in Maryland and wrote what was virtually a real-time narrative fashioned from the torrent of e-mails, documents and interview transcripts Broadwell sent my way.
From the outset, the editors at Penguin Press were quite clear about what they wanted: a book on the rigors of command told from an inside point of view. The ultimate narrative tracked what turned out to be a year in command for Petraeus. The book is not a traditional biography, although it does contain a series of biographical digressions about him. I had no say over the book’s ultimate take on Petraeus, which some have found excessively laudatory. Broadwell was free to make whatever revision or modifications she desired to the text, and did so liberally. To my mind, in any event, the book remains a valuable chronicle of his year in command and makes clear that the war wasn’t going all that well.
Before Broadwell’s first trip to Afghanistan, I wondered whether she really had the kind of access necessary to deliver the book we’d promised. But she wore down whatever resistance Petraeus may have had to the project, which he never agreed to make an authorized biography.
By the time of Broadwell’s last reporting trip to Afghanistan, her access was exclusive: She flew out of Kabul on Petraeus’s jet after an emotional change-of-command ceremony and accompanied him during a barnstorming tour he made of European capitals on his way back to Washington.
I always thought that Broadwell’s motives were pure, and I always wondered why Petraeus was granting her the access that he did. The two must have seen a lot of themselves in each other — they shared the West Point bond, an addiction to physical fitness and running and an uber-optimistic, never-say-die outlook on life.
Broadwell clearly admired Petraeus as a leader and a military officer. That her dissertation, and ultimately the book, had grown out of a mentoring relationship with Petraeus is something I still take at face value. I never thought they were having an affair — and I still have no idea when the affair actually began. I sent Broadwell an e-mail Monday, letting her know that I was writing this piece and welcoming any comment she chose to make. I have yet to hear back from her.