Ethics Train Wreck Watch: The Petraeus-Broadwell Affair

There is too much information awaiting disclosure to do a thorough ethical analysis at this point, but it is already clear beyond question that the David Petraeus-Paula Broadwell scandal is an ethics train wreck, with many more individuals and perhaps institutions involved than the direct participants. Today’s news reports that the adulterous affair prompting the much-respected CIA Director’s sudden resignation was triggered by Broadwell’s  threatening e-mails to another women she suspected of vying for the General’s affections clinches train wreck status. This thing is still rolling.

Other features of the wreck-in-progress:

  • Broadwell is a West Point graduate, and knew that Petraeus was violating the military, intelligence and national security ethics codes by having a relationship with her. She not only did nothing to stop the destructive actions of the man she purportedly loved and admired, but encouraged, facilitated and participated in them, for both career advancement and personal motives.
  • Petraeus’s aides in Afghanistan were alarmed by the relationship they saw developing with Broadwell, and apparently took no action.
  • Someone whose circumstances strongly suggest that he is Broadwell’s husband wrote to Chuck Klosterman, the new New York Times Ethicist, with this strange query…

“….He is engaged in work that I am passionate about and is absolutely the right person for the job. I strongly feel that exposing the affair will  create a major distraction that would adversely impact the success of an important effort. My issue: Should I acknowledge this affair and finally force closure? Should I suffer in silence for the next year or two for a project I feel must succeed?

  • Then there are the unanswered (this far) questions regarding the timing of Petraeus’s announcement, and the fact that the F.B.I. did not immediately inform the Senate Intelligence Committee when it learned of the affair, as required by law.
  • Meanwhile, Petraeus’s resignation has removed him from the witness list as Congress tries to get to the bottom of what really happened in Benghazi, when the CIA knew and when, why the Administration was still blaming the anti-Islamic video so long after the siege on the American embassy, why there was no rescue effort, and related questions.

I’m sure there will be more developments.

There always are.

We’ll revisit this train wreck soon.


Facts: Washington Post

Source: New York Times

Graphic: Saturday Evening Post

13 thoughts on “Ethics Train Wreck Watch: The Petraeus-Broadwell Affair

  1. Why are you acting so surprised? Didn’t our president, while still a candidate, promise to completely transform this nation as we have always known it? He is well on his way to fulfilling that promise — ethics have been thrown under the bus.

  2. I do not believe that Petraeus resigned because of the affair. I also do not believe that if testify s that he would be honest , but instead the lives of Ambassador and Navy Seals and others will go away like it never happened.

    • She’s not military, though, She’s a freelance writer. We all have an ethical obligation not make others violate their professional codes, but one is not formally bound by military codes after leaving the military, She’s a civilian.

        • Of course. He resigned when he was caught. He violated his code when he started the affair–he should have resigned then. But if he was thinking that way, he wouldn’t have started it.
          The affair is unethical whether there is a code or not. Violating a professional code makes it more unethical.

      • She graduated from West Point and while she may no longer be active duty there other graduates of West Point that expect her to still follow their code of ethics and honor.

          • I know that when I work a fellow Marine I expect him to act in a certain manner . I hold him to a higher standard then I do others. I can only beleive that her fellow West Pointers expected the same. Just as you most likely hold a fellow Harvard grade to a higher standard.

  3. He may still be subpoenaed, and I would hope that his devotion to duty and honor will prevail.

    The FBI and surely the Administration have known about this for weeks, if not months.

    The several well-orchestrated moves regarding this (after the election and prior to his being brought before the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify) are curious to say the least.

    The DoS has agreed to allow lawmakers to view cable and email intel…while most of them are out of town. SoS Clinton has declined to testify.

    The cynic in me believes this will not go quietly into that good night.

  4. No, it will not go quietly into that good night.

    I like to go for the broad overview. I just read this New Yorker piece, and I think it carves close to the bone.

    Here are the first few graphs, followed by a link to the rest of the piece.

    Americans love a good rise-and-fall story, and resurrections, too. Our history is made up of such redemptive stuff; it is part of our folklore, our very national essence. Just as Douglas MacArthur became our Second World War savior-soldier in the Pacific campaign, so, too, a few years later in Korea, when he overstretched his authority, was he fired from his commands and sent home. MacArthur’s legacy was tarnished, but not overly so, for in those patriotic days of the Cold War and of Fortress America, he was allowed to keep his earlier laurels and bask in that glory. Americans do not like getting rid of heroes whom they have helped to concoct.
    The motive for David Petraeus’s resignation as director of the C.I.A.—the exposure of an affair—seems such a lesser thing than MacArthur’s, but his offense is so much more in keeping with our downsized days, in which the tawdry and intimate have crept inexorably into the public sphere, even as the public exaltation of celebrities has been both magnified and distorted.
    Petraeus’s downfall is only as great as we choose to make it. He was an exceptional military officer, and he helped steer a turnaround in what had been a hopeless, bloody mess of a war in Iraq. But his lionization by admiring and opportunistic politicians and fawning journalists and biographers—such as Paula Broadwell, the woman he was involved with—has been craven and boundless: Petraeus as America’s Prometheus. This derived in part from our habit of turning flesh-and-blood men into Paul Bunyans, but it was also the product of a gigantic official spin campaign in which the Bush Administration sought, through Petraeus, to retell the U.S. war in Iraq as a success story.
    The war in Iraq was a geostrategic mistake of historic proportions, but, toward the end of his tenure, with his leadership of the surge and the Sunni Awakening, David Petraeus helped to mitigate things somewhat, and permitted the U.S. drawdown to take place without undue loss of face. A legend was born. Petraeus gave Americans a new hero general to worship at a time when its civilian leaders had failed them. But, in return, we allowed his epic to stand in for our memory of that war, or even, of those who helped Petraeus “win” it. Which other generals’ names do we remember from Iraq? I will wager that few Americans who live outside of the Beltway or the Pentagon can name any. What do we remember of Iraq itself? Again, I suspect very little other than an unpleasant haze of half-recalled snapshots: Shock and Awe, Mission Accomplished, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and, perhaps, Saddam’s capture and later execution. What else? Blackwater?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.