The Petraeus Affair engages us on many levels, ranging from compromised security and political cover-ups to more fundamental questions of morality, duplicity, honor and human nature. Superficially, tales of adultery are always more fascinating when they are about good looking people in high places, both of which pertain here. It’s too soon to know how much deeper this plot will sink and how many other people may be involved, but as of Tues, Nov 13th, its disclosure is shaping up as the familiar saga of territoriality and competition between an alpha female and her perceived younger threat.
If you were creating a prototype for an ambitious, disciplined and determined go-getter, you would have conjured up Paula Broadwell, the athletic West Point graduate who fixed on David Petraeus as the subject for her PhD thesis, later turning it into a book with a journalist’s assistance. What started as a request for interviews and academic cooperation soon turned into a physical attraction and yada, yada, yada, you know the rest. What we don’t know is whether this began in Afghanistan or when Petraeus was already at the CIA, neither of which matters for the purpose of this essay. At some point during the affair, Ms Broadwell (or does she prefer the honorific Dr. as in Dr. Jill Biden?) became aware of Jill Kelley, another attractive married woman who is billed as a friend of Petraeus and someone active in helping wounded veterans and adorning Tampa society. As in stories we’ve read and seen in newspapers and movies, Alpha Paula regressed to the level of a high school cheerleader, sending nasty e-mails to Alpha Jill, warning her to keep her pom poms off this already claimed, adulterous, married general. Wily Jill, not wishing to descend into a catfight with her older challenger, instead resorted to the tried and true tactic of snitching to the FBI, conveniently contacting an agent who was already trying to win her favor by exposing his pecs and abs online.
To recap: we have one gloriously decorated Alpha male general, married to the scion of an illustrious military family, involved with a 40′ish married mother of two who is also a graduate of West Point and former homecoming queen; friendly with a younger married woman also involved with military men, who may or may not have been flirting with said general under the table or above, who tattles to the spooks about the nasty, sexually explicit e-mail she’s getting from an “anonymous” sender.
Though General Petraeus may be remorseful over the pain and shame he is causing his wife and family, the bigger apology he owes is to the American public for plunging us into one of the tackiest and most adolescent soap operas we’ve had to endure. A disgruntled woman who had invaded another woman’s turf, can’t abide the damage to her ego over another possible contender for the same prize and resorts to cyber-terror and the compromising of national security. For those who like to think that military admonitions against adultery are puritanically archaic, here’s the proof for why they’re not. Human beings may believe that they are sophisticated enough to handle complicated sexual arrangements but our emotional reactions have not kept pace with our ever-loosening sexual mores. We may have conquered the field of contraception but we still haven’t learned how to control human jealousy and its concomitant perfidy. We need only remind ourselves of what King David did to Bathsheba’s military husband to realize how very old and archtypal this story is.
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