Just three days after the presidential election, the director of the CIA and former commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan David H. Petraeus resigned after news broke of an extramarital affair. The woman, Paula D. Broadwell, was his biographer and a Harvard Kennedy School graduate.
Americans are confused about the whole ordeal. According to CNN, 48 percent of Americans supported the resignation, while 48 percent opposed it. Americans are also split about Obama’s immediate acceptance of the resignation.
Why did General Petraeus resign? According to most news, he resigned because of his affair. However, I do not understand how being the director of the CIA and having a raging libido are mutually exclusive activities. It is as much of a non sequitur to me as “General Petraeus resigned because dandelions are yellow.”
In my opinion, there is a special ring in hell for husbands who cheat. Luckily, I am not married to General Petraeus (lucky for him, too). Had he not resigned, however, I could have benefitted from his services as an excellent commander and director. Not all good civil servants make good husbands, and not all good husbands make good civil servants. I would not sleep well at night knowing that I am protected by the watchful eye of Ricky Ricardo.
Which leads me to my main question: What would the world look like if all men who cheated chose to resign?
If all unfaithful directors of the CIA resigned, this article would have been written in German. More likely, I would never have been born to write it if Allen W. Dulles, the fifth and longest serving director of the CIA, had resigned before going as a diplomat to Eastern Europe in 1935. His efforts to bring America out of neutrality were crucial, and, like his foreign policy, his love life wasn’t neutral either. According to his sister, Dulles had “at least a hundred” extramarital affairs. Dulles ran espionage missions out of Switzerland before serving as CIA director, and his many romantic conquests included the queen of Greece and the wife of the publisher of Time magazine.
Infantry infidelity is no recent phenomenon either. As early as roughly 50 BC, the commander of the Roman army, Mark Antony, had a rather notorious affair with a lady by the name of Cleopatra. Perhaps if General Petraeus had waxed poetic about Ms. Broadwell, we might show him the same sympathy we give to Mark Antony: “Let Baghdad in Tigris melt!”
Think of the blows that would be made to the movie, music, and fashion industries if all cheating men had to quit their day jobs. Congress may be vacant by now. The economy would suffer greatly. If unfaithful men were all out of work, strippers would go belly-up (perhaps an unusual position for them). The only employed people left would be divorce attorneys.
Worse yet, imagine if all presidents who had extramarital affairs had resigned! Half the country would not have been purchased from Napoleon if Thomas Jefferson had resigned. If Franklin D. Roosevelt, class of 1904, had quit his day job, we would (once again) be speaking German. We may well be a bunch of Civil Rights-free communists without an interstate highway system if Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson or Clinton had up and quit. And who could have survived without the Capper-Volstead Act if Warren G. Harding had given up?
Perhaps General Petraeus’ affair shows that he is not good at keeping a secret (probably a useful skill for director of the CIA). Arguments can be made for why infidelity fosters a lack of trust. However, your trust is only ever broken if you thought something different beforehand. Before last week, I never made a point of thinking about Petraeus having sex with one woman, so my trust is not really broken. There was a time when I could turn on CNN and not have to think about David Petraeus’ sex life, and I am very nostalgic for that time.
David Petraeus joins a long list of poor husbands and good public servants. This is not to say that women are exempt. Women simply make up fewer public servants and are less likely to cheat. We are complicated and multifaceted creatures. Public servants will cheat, but the only people who should be resigning are their wives.
Sarah R. Siskind ’14 is a government concentrator in Adams House. Her column normally appears on alternate Fridays.