General David Petraeus, to hear tell, is one of the finest military
men to serve this country since Washington crossed the Delaware.
To underscore that claim, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, once compared Petraeus to Ulysses S. Grant,
John J. Pershing, George Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower as one of
the great battle captains of American history.
Unfortunately for his country and his family, you can add infidelity
to his resume.
Recently named to head the CIA, the Petraeus was forced to resign
when it was discovered that he was having an extra-marital affair
with a woman who wrote a fawning biography about him.
He thus joins Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas
MacArthur, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich,
Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford, David Vitter, Arnold
Schwarzenegger and untold thousands of other men, known and unknown,
whose zipper failure caused a fall from grace.
In Petraeus case, we all are the worse for it. This West Point grad
who holds a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton saw
extensive combat and command duty in the Mideast for which he was
universally praised. Indeed, in a sort of bizarre tribute, documents
captured during the raid on Osama bin Laden revealed that the
terrorist leader had targeted Petraues for death.
Now a respected and revered soldier will spend the rest of his days
dealing with the fallout from a sex scandal that is as tawdry as
anything you’d find on the Jerry Springer show. It can only get worse
if security concerns come into play.
So why does a good man do bad things?
According to Dr. Ronald E, Riggio, a Claremont McKenna professor,
“Powerful people, including famous leaders, will take risks - sexual
affairs, engaging in illegal or unethical behavior - simply because
they can. Being powerful and famous means that others are willing to
do almost anything for them. They become "intoxicated" by their
power. They believe that the rules that govern other people simply
don't apply to them.”
OK, but “intoxicated” enough to trash an entire career just for some
sack time? Could it be that the General is just a helpless victim of
powerful biological urges?
For humans, monogamy does not come naturally, and biology predisposes
us to seek multiple sex partners. That's what zoologist David Barash,
PhD, and psychiatrist Judith Lipton, MD, claim in their book, “The
Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People.”
Virtually all animals, they say in an article on Web MD, are far from
being 100% monogamous 100% of the time.
“The only completely, fatalistically monogamous animal we've been
able to identify is a tapeworm found in the intestines of fish,"
Lipton said. That's because the male and female worms fuse together
at the abdomen and never separate afterward.
If that’s the case, maybe we should be get off our moral high horse
and wink at infidelity. Should we restore General Petraeus to his CIA
post? Should we forgive President Clinton? Should we excuse Gov.
In some cultures, we would do just that. The French, for example, are
amused by our sexual scandals. Matthew Fraser, writing in the
Washington Post, said that it’s impossible to imagine a French
political leader resigning because of an extramarital indiscretion.
If this rule were observed, the French parliament would be nearly
The past five French presidents, Fraser says, are known to have had
at least one -- and in some cases, many more -- mistresses throughout
their political career.
Well and good, but personally I have trouble embracing the views of
people who eat snails. And I prefer my leaders to demonstrate some
Lipton and Barash don't say that sexual fidelity is impossible or
wrong because it is not natural, only that it takes some effort. "We
human beings spend a large part of our lives learning to do unnatural
things, like play the violin or type on a computer," Lipton explains.
Aha. So fidelity requires the same kind of discipline it takes to
play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D. Or command an army.
Professor Riggio believes the antidote to infidelity is humility.
If that’s the case, General Petraeus has received of massive dose of
the required medicine.