“Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.”
—-Gen. David H. Petraeus, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in a public statement announcing his resignation from that position.
Democrats and Republicans must have felt that they had stumbled into the Way-Back Machine and delivered into England circa. 1904. A high government official resigning over adultery, sex,…”personal misconduct?” How bizarre! Naturally, Sen. Diane Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that she would have supported Petraeus if he had chosen to stay. “I wish President Obama had not accepted this resignation, but I understand and respect the decision,” she said in a statement, and described Petraeus’s resignation as an “enormous loss for our nation’s intelligence community and for our country.”
The right way to leave after an affair, apparently, is to try to cover it up, submit to extortion, corrupt others in the process, and only quit when the hideout is surrounded, the hounds are clawing at the door and someone is yelling at you through a bullhorn—you know, like former GOP Sen. John Ensign, who waited two years to resign while his colleagues, like Feinstein, looked the other way. Nobody gets it in Washington—“it” being the ironclad principle that leadership must set the highest example, not the lowest level it can get away with, or the whole system rots below. Nobody, apparently, except the man who just resigned.
Gen. Petraeus, who is a genuinely gifted leader, is devoted to such ethical mandates as tenets 3, 4 and 5 of the Army’s “Eleven Principles of Leadership”:
Principle #3 – Seek Responsibility and Take Responsibility for Your Actions
We are not satisfied with performing just our duties to the best of our abilities, we look to grow and seek further challenges, and always, when in charge, accept the consequences of our decisions, absorb the negative and pass on the praises.
Principle #4 – Make Sound and Timely Decisions
Leaders must be able to reason under the most critical condition and decide quickly what action to take.
Principle #5 – Set the Example
No aspect of leadership is more powerful. Our personal example affects people more than any amount of instruction or form of discipline. We are the role model.
The last most of all. In the intelligence community, an affair signifies betrayal, dishonesty and a lack of trustworthiness, in addition to poor self-control and judgment. Entanglements with mistresses and paramours create vulnerability to extortion and foreign manipulation: it is strictly forbidden by CIA rules. For the leader to violate such a core restriction and continue in charge would send a signal throughout the organization that the rule, and others, was window-dressing, nothing more.
I have no doubt, none at all, that had Petraeus chosen to stay, the public, the Obama Administration, Republicans (who idolize him) and Democrats like Feinstein would have been thrilled to allow him, and to let the scandal fade away. After all, he’s good at his job—it was just one mistake—it’s only sex—lots of leaders do it—he’s only human—it was personal conduct…forgiveness is divine. We know these by heart, don’t we? They were all trotted out ad nauseam in the defense of President Clinton, who as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces also should be living by the Army’s principles of leadership, and who not only engaged in on-the-job adultery but with a subordinate employee, and lied about it under oath, twice. Accountability is almost invisible on Capitol Hill. Leadership means holding power, keeping it, wielding it, not ennobling it. The public sees so little true leadership that it no longer recognizes what a leader is.
The Washington leader who most understands and lives by the principles of leadership just gave up his position because he understands them. It is a profound message and a courageous one that he delivered. I do not expect the alleged leaders left behind to understand it at all.
Typo alert: Many thanks to Jeff
Graphic: Naked DC
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.