I assumed, given how public their semi-official relationship was, that he would never engage in any risky behavior. He’d always preached to his protégés that character was what you did when no one was watching. And he would always hasten to add, from his most public of perches, that “someone is always watching.”
There was no protégé more ardent than Broadwell.
To see both of them fall in such tragic fashion brought to mind a comment by Nick Carraway, the character in “The Great Gatsby,” who says early on in the novel:
“I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.”
The only contact I had with Petraeus during my work on the book came in 2011 during one of his trips back to Washington while he was still in command of the war. He invited me to go running with him along the Potomac in a gesture that was vintage Petraeus.
No one cultivated e-mail relationships with journalists better than he did; no one could be more personable on a kind of superficial level that nonetheless made people feel good about their interaction with him.
So one morning, at the appointed hour, I showed up at Fort Myer and was met by an aide. He took me to the general’s stately home on the base. Two or three black sport-utility vehicles waited out front, along with a dozen or so aides, junior officers, NCOs, even a security guard from the CIA, since Petraeus had already been nominated to take over the agency.
We drove six miles out along the Potomac, were dropped off, and ran back along the dirt tow path. The commander of the war in Afghanistan and I ran side by side, talking about great world events. I could scarcely believe I suddenly had this kind of access.
Just as I now can scarcely believe where that kind of access led Broadwell, and Petraeus.