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Titillation of Petraeus affair comes at a high cost for America

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was lucky there was no such thing as email during the Second World War. His romantic relationship with his lovely Irish driver, Kay Summersby, did not come to light for decades and did not keep him from leading the D-Day Invasion, becoming the first supreme commander of NATO or rising to the presidency.

Gen. David Petraeus was not so fortunate. He tried to hide an affair with his attractive biographer and jogging partner, Paula Broadwell, by using a dropbox that would evade any email trail. But the general did not anticipate his paramour’s jealous nature. Apparently, Broadwell was suspicious of the steady communication coming to the general from a young, dark-haired Tampa socialite named Jill Kelley. Broadwell sent off a string of anonymous, threatening emails to Kelley, Kelley contacted a pal in the FBI, the FBI started unraveling all the subterfuge and the rest is tabloid history.

All sorts of titillating details have now oozed out of this scandal. There’s the hilarious tidbit about the FBI agent who, after reporting to his superiors about the anonymous nasty emails, was taken off the investigation that eventually brought down Petraeus. The reason? The agent had been sending bare-chested photos of himself to Kelley. There is also the much bigger revelation that Kelley had been carrying on near-constant email correspondence, not only with Petraeus, but also with Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

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Now, Allen’s promotion to Eisenhower’s old post at the top of NATO is on hold because some of his return emails to Kelley, Tampa’s most persistent military groupie, may have gotten a bit too flirtatious.

Cultivating friendships with the top brass at the military’s Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base helped Kelley and her husband climb the Tampa social ladder. It has not worked out so well for the generals. Allen is in an embarrassing situation, yet he may avoid lasting damage to his career since his sins seem limited to a few overly suggestive email messages. Petraeus, though, has resigned his job running the CIA, tarnishing his reputation as one of the most effective and influential military men of his generation. 

This is all fabulous news for media gossip mavens, but not so good for the country. The sudden subtraction of Petraeus’ leadership skills and international expertise is a real loss. There are few, if any, other countries in which a romantic fling would force a man of Petraeus’ stature into retirement. Of course, we can be proud of insisting on such high ethical standards and probably, in the long run, our military and our government institutions are better for it. Still, this is a case where the price for rectitude seems especially high. 

Would America be better off if Ike had been brought down by his stolen kisses in time of war?

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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