The shocking resignation of General David Petraeus—a crisis that confronted President Obama almost immediately after his Tuesday re-election—demonstrated quite forcefully how difficult and unpredictable are the troubles that confront a modern president on an almost daily basis.
Obama had barely 24 hours to bask in the glory of his stunning electoral triumph before being thrust into a national security crisis in the guise of the nation’s top military man, a general whose credentials and brilliance have been so unquestioned that he was confirmed by a 94-0 vote in the Senate as CIA director last year, having to step down in embarrassment as the leader of the CIA—just weeks after a major CIA-connected crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Libya that resulted in the death of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.
In both military and political circles, Petraeus was a prince. When John McCain challenged Obama for the presidency in 2008 and made a major issue out of the wisdom of the surge in Iraq, it was Petraeus’ opinion that McCain, a military hero himself, continually leaned on in making his case.
Republicans tried to draft Petraeus to run for president against Obama, thinking that he was so popular he would win by acclamation.
Petraeus, who has a Ph.d from Princeton, also seemed to believe his own press.
“His nickname—’King David’—was sometimes used by subordinates to mock his assessment of himself,” said a piece on NJ.com. “He courted the press and catered to reporters who came to see real war in Iraq—and he was known for sending them autographed glossies of himself afterward.”
But Petraeus in the end was not a wunderkind but just a man, one who succumbed to temptation in the form of his lovely biographer, former Army officer Paula Broadwell, who spent a considerable amount of time “embedded” with Petraeus working on her book, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.”
According to several published reports, the FBI stumbled across the affair when they discovered that Broadwell had access to Petraeus’ email accounts, which was considered a possible security threat. Reuters said there was no answer at the door of Broadwell’s house in the affluent Charlotte, North Carolina, neighborhood of Dilworth.
Petraeus’ “critics fault him for ambition and self-promotion,” Broadwell wrote about the general in the book. “[H]is energy, optimism and will to win stand out more for me.”Holly Petraeus
While Petraeus didn’t necessarily break any CIA rules with his affair, it is considered dangerous for someone in his position to be in such a compromising position because it could possibly be used against him if the information got in the wrong hands.
Petraeus told his staffers he was guilty of “extremely poor judgment.”
“Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” he said in a statement. “Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.”
Petraeus even was precociously wise (and ambitious) in his choice of a spouse, 38 years ago marrying Holly Knowlton, the daughter of the superintendent of West Point, the esteemed military academy, whom Petraeus met when was a cadet there. He and Holly Petraeus have two children—and their son led an infantry platoon in Afghanistan. Holly Petraeus, known for her work helping military families, recently joined the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to set up an office dedicated to helping service members with financial issues. According to a report on humanevents.com, they seemed a bit awkward together in recent months, while Broadwell and Petraeus seemed to have attended an Office of Strategic Services dinner in October together as a couple—with Broadwell following right behind him as he made his way across the room during the VIP reception, greeting other guests.Petraeus and Holly at West Point graduation
This was the statement released by the president in accepting the resignation:
“David Petraeus has provided extraordinary service to the United States for decades. By any measure, he was one of the outstanding General officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end. As Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he has continued to serve with characteristic intellectual rigor, dedication, and patriotism. By any measure, through his lifetime of service David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger.
Today, I accepted his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission, and I have the utmost confidence in Acting Director Michael Morell and the men and women of the CIA who work every day to keep our nation safe. Going forward, my thoughts and prayers are with Dave and Holly Petraeus, who has done so much to help military families through her own work. I wish them the very best at this difficult time.”
Obama, who accepted Petraeus’ resignation in a phone call with him on Friday afternoon, said Michael Morell, the agency’s long-time deputy director, would serve as acting CIA chief.
According to sources, Morell is a leading candidate to be Petraeus’ permanent successor. He earned Obama’s trust when he frequently briefed the president during planning for the operation to take down Osama bin Laden, a senior administration official said.
“He’s respected, a straight shooter, and has great relationships with the White House and Capitol Hill. Not to mention over 30 years of agency experience,” a former CIA official, who called Morell “the odds-on favorite,” told Reuters.