The David Petraeus drama has everything: sex, power, the CIA, the FBI, e-mails, shirtless pics, a pretty socialite, her twin, bad finances, a custody fight, a pretty biographer, Charlotte, Tampa, Eric Cantor. It’s like a real-life version of “Homeland” with some Real Housewives stay-away-from-my-man flavor thrown in. It’s all very titillating. And it’s all very sad. For yet another institution revered by many has been proven to be a mirage.

Of all the stories I’ve read since the news broke about the affair between the now former CIA chief and Paula Broadwell, his biographer, the last paragraphs of the first New York Times story continue to resonate for me.

Jacey Eckhart, the spouse editor for the Web site, said the fact that the Petraeuses had been married for so long, and survived so many separations, was a source of inspiration to younger military couples.

“The sense was they had a strong marriage, that this was a functioning relationship, that they had good kids. It’s one of those relationships that you look up to: if they can do it, we can do it. This is what success looks like. So this is shocking. This is what it looks like when a hero falls.”


“If they can do it, we can do it.” Except they couldn’t. No, he couldn’t. And his infidelity not only damaged their marriage, but also destroyed an institution military spouses suffering multiple deployments looked to for strength in keeping their own families intact.

I used the word institution intentionally. Americans have had their faith in them tested or have lost faith altogether as revered symbols of their potency spectacularly fall from grace. Lance Armstrong, a symbol of athletic perfection was brought down by an elaborate doping scandal. Jerry Sandusky, a symbol of Penn State football prowess who folks believed was as good off the field as he was on, was brought down by allegations and then a conviction in a child sex-abuse scandal that was years in the making. The housing markets encouraged people to buy homes they couldn’t afford and then foreclosed on them when they couldn’t make the payments. The financial markets cooked their books in a way that brought our economy to its knees. These are just the institutional failures I can think of off the top of my head.

Petraeus let down the CIA, the men and women in the Army who looked to him for leadership and a moral/ethical grounding. Most important, he let down his wife, Holly. David is not an institution to her. He’s her husband. I can only imagine what she’s going through as everyone focuses on how this scandal will impact him, his career and his future. He will be fine. I hope she will be, too.