What Broadwell did next was a signature feature of her resilience and drive — and what detractors say is her tendency to overstate her credentials.
Broadwell eventually leveraged her unfinished dissertation into a best-selling biography of Petraeus, a project that gave her almost unlimited access to the general when he commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan and later when he was director of the CIA. That access led to the extramarital affair that upended Petraeus’s career and shined a bright light on Broadwell’s.
A few months after leaving Harvard in 2008, Broadwell began a full-bore effort to remake herself as a highly visible player in Washington’s insular foreign policy community. At the time, she and her husband, a radiologist, were raising toddlers and preparing to move to Charlotte, where he was setting up his practice.
In the summer of 2009, Broadwell told several prominent experts on counterinsurgency warfare that she had been asked by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly installed commander in Afghanistan, to assemble a team of first-tier academics and experts to conduct an outside evaluation of McChrystal’s highly anticipated review of his war strategy.
She pressed experts in Washington and Cambridge, Mass., to join the panel and lobbied senior U.S. military officials in Kabul to back her fledgling “red team” effort, military jargon for an outsider evaluation. The prospective team held a couple of meetings, according to one person who was involved.
But senior military officials who were on McChrystal’s staff said Broadwell was not asked to spearhead an evaluation. The officials, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Broadwell and Petraeus, said her attempt to assemble a red-team review panel was rejected after McChrystal’s aides decided that her experience, her connections and her academic credentials were too thin.
“She was trying to pull together something way over her head,” said Mark R. Jacobson, a former deputy NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan whom Broadwell approached to serve on the team. Jacobson said he admired Broadwell’s pluck. “It was the kind of move you make in Washington when you are trying to make a name,” he said.
Others who had been approached to be part of the group said they questioned her assurances that she had the backing of top military officials. In a 2010 interview on a Web site focused on leadership, Broadwell was still saying that McChrystal had asked her to assemble the leadership team.