Even the best and brightest can be knuckleheads

The Petraeus and Secret Service scandals show once again how people entrusted with tremendous responsibilities can be brought down by their naivete.

David Petraeus

David Petraeus testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2010. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press / June 29, 2010)

It seemed at first like a welcome break from political overload. There's nothing like a juicy sex scandal to relieve election fatigue.

But this one, it turns out, brims with suggestions of military misconduct and questions of national security that have talking heads droning about matters of policy while most of us just want the dope on disgraced generals, the West Point vixen and Kardashian-esque identical twins.

By now, we are all caught up on the basics of the scandal that brought down C.I.A. Director David Petraeus:

The retired general had an extramarital affair with his attractive biographer. She sent threatening emails to a Tampa socialite whom she considered a rival. The socialite's complaint to an FBI agent launched a probe that brought down the general and tarnished his comrade, Gen. James Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Investigators spent months scouring in-boxes and reading thousands of messages. They did not find evidence that national security has been compromised.

But they did find a web of tangled relationships, fueled by sexually suggestive emails and the sort of online cloak-and-dagger antics used by teenagers and terrorists to hide secret lives.

There is lots of argument about whether Petraeus should have resigned over infidelity. Some see this as Greek tragedy: a smart, hard-charging leader, brought down by vaunted risk-taking and voracious needs.

I see it more as a series of comic misadventures — the retired general and his wingman in the thrall of younger, hotter chicks.

The story really isn't that hard to fathom. We've heard it all before.

Petraeus is no tragic figure, just a middle-aged man caught up in a cat-fight, reduced to knucklehead status by his own stupidity.



That's what President Obama called Secret Service agents whose Colombian strip club adventures embarrassed the agency last spring.

The officers were supposed to be preparing Cartagena for the president's arrival. Instead, they were visiting strip clubs, getting drunk and partying in hotel rooms with local prostitutes.

They got caught when an angry hooker raised a ruckus because her agent wouldn't pay up. That's knucklehead No. 1.

Almost a dozen agents lost their jobs. Yet Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan blamed "the atmosphere and the environment." Translation: Sexy women, a foreign country, too much alcohol.

And before long, what politicians had called "the worst moment" in Secret Service history was being written off as nothing more than a grown-man version of "Girls Gone Wild."

It's too early to say what the shelf-life of the Petraeus scandal will be. Its dimensions are still unfolding, and the titillation factor rules.

But the public chatter has already made one thing clear: If Petraeus is a fallen hero, it's the women's fault he fell.

We blame his wife, because she's so homely. Or his mistress, because she's so hot.