A breach of confidence

published 14 Nov 2012, page A5, MST
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency is supposed to be the United States’—if not the world’s—top sleuth. His agency should be the one uncovering dark secrets. But what happened over the weekend is a far cry from this stereotype. Instead, the FBI revealed General David Petraeus’ secret—that he was having an affair with his biographer.  Because of this, he resigned.

There are many angles to this story. The obvious one is the most salacious: that the 60-year-old general who could do no wrong had been in a relationship with 40-year-old Paula Broadwell, who is herself married and the mother of two young children. The FBI probe was set off by yet another woman complaining about threatening emails from Broadwell who seemed to perceive her as a romantic rival.
The less appealing, but more far-reaching, angle is that Petraeus had been due to testify this week in a probe about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya on September 11. The US Ambassador to Libya was killed in that attack. Now that Petraeus has resigned, his likely successor would take the stand instead. Was he “prevented” from testifying? Equally important are the issues of whether national security was compromised and whether the general had exposed himself to blackmail.
But let us leave the love triangle issue (and nobody is even talking about the wife!) to the gossip mills and the national security speculation to experts. Today I would like to focus on whether Petraeus, seen as an eminently qualified military and intelligence official, did the right thing in stepping down. How intertwined are public officials’ professional lives with their personal ones?
Eleven of my friends—four men and seven women—gamely replied to a crude electronic survey I did on the matter.
Manila-based journalist Rudy says the resignation had absolutely nothing to do with morals.  “I bet it is more of a horse trade than anything else.”
Melchor, a PMA graduate who was an Air Force officer for years before becoming a commercial pilot, says that for a plum post such as Petraeus’, “even a minor blunder is tantamount to eviction…not for its sensitivity to national security but for the fact that many would desire that position. Having an affair? Come on!”
Ricky, who used to be a Jesuit volunteer before settling in the US where he is now an e-library specialist, believes that Petraeus was right in stepping down because “mere perception (of a security breach), true or not, is damaging.” Still, he does not discount the general’s contributions. “He has served his country well and this unfortunate incident should not fully tarnish his legacy.”
Graduate student Bobby is amused that Petraeus was not able conceal information. "We would expect him to do better at his game," but concedes that the confession and resignation were "somewhat" admirable. Of course he cannot set a good example by his betrayal, and he won't enjoy the public trust anymore.

Charrie, born and raised in Manila but whose husband is an officer of the US Air Force, reminds us that the family lies at the core of the values of the military and the CIA. She understands why Petraeus had to step down. Still, she credits the general for admitting his fault, calling it a "win" for the country. "His resignation will sustain the integrity of the men and women who continue to serve."
Eve, who lives in Iowa and home schools her children, quotes an oft-repeated line that’s nonetheless true: “The foundation of public office is trust.”  She adds: “If they betray the trust of the ones dearest to them, how much more the people they don’t even know?”
Petraeus’ move “was the best and it was expected from someone in that environment.  Short and sweet.  It would be useless to prolong the agony so everyone can feast!” says Tina, a businesswoman whose late father was also in the military.
Baby, quality control officer for a pharmaceutical company, believes it is impossible to separate the personal from the professional. Still, it is up to the individual to know his or her own vulnerability.
Meanwhile, the position has a lot to do with the decision, Zamboanga-based journalism professor Monabelle believes. “A bank manager would not feel a lot of pressure to resign.”  Those holding sensitive posts, however, are not so lucky.
For water quality laboratory analyst, California resident and mother-of-two Joyce, it is important that the affair was consensual. “They hurt people, but they did not sexually molest page boys…I personally think Petraeus can still serve, but that decision was his to make.”
Paz, a library official from Hamilton, Ontario, shares Joyce’s view. “If the same situation applies in the Philippines, then we would not have any government officials/ politicians left at all! LOL.”
This is only the latest scandal to bring down a prominent personality.  The public will no doubt revel in the details yet to come. Why does there seem to be an inordinate attention to the downfall of great men due to their, ugh, basic instincts? This is another thing for sociologists to figure out—if they haven’t already.
In the end, damage was done not only to the Petraeus family, but to the Broadwells, as well.  That said, I am sure the protagonists—and everybody who could in one way or another identify with them—have been reminded that 1. all  actions have consequences, sometimes greater and swifter than we could ever imagine, and 2. they must find a way to get over this episode, and despite (because of?) their failings, continue to do good things that are bigger than themselves.