General Petraeus Affair: Why the Decorated General Risked Everything for Paula Broadwell


The CIA should be more concerned about writer Paula Broadwell’s guns than General David Petraeus’s. More specifically, the ones she flaunted on her Daily Show appearance in January 2012. Broadwell blatantly boasted about her professional relationship with the general, while dancing around their personal one. 

Many insiders said that an extramarital affair was the last thing they thought Petraeus—a decorated war hero, CIA head, and husband of 37 years—would be embroiled in. What kind of a person did he decide to throw it all away for?  

It was someone with not only his intellect and military background, but also his equal in pedigree and tactile shrewdness. This was no intern or disposable underling. Paula Broadwell was a force to be reckoned with. She leveraged her relationship with General Petraeus to gain access to some of the most highly classified military cases, and gathered ample fodder for her authorizedbiography, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, which was published in January.

Let's name a few of Paula Broadwell's accomplishments. She's a West Point graduate, holds an MPA from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and is a thrice active-duty tour service woman in the middle east counter-terrorism unit. 

According to her Penguin books biography, she “lived, worked, or traveled in more than 60 countries during more than 15 years of military service and worked in geopolitical analysis and counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations." 

This woman makes Claire Danes’ character in Homeland look like she works a bureaucratic desk job. Then there’s her private life. Broadwell is also married (to a doctor) with two children. In her spare time, she runs triathlons and raises money for wounded veterans. She turned 40 last week and was supposed to be feted during a D.C. dinner thrown by her husband. The event was promptly cancelled after Petraeus resigned.

From their first meeting, when Broadwell approached Petraeus after he spoke at Harvard’s School of Government, she took him up on his willingness to serve as a mentor to aspiring soldier-scholars. Coming armed with questions she noted, "I took full advantage of his open-door policy to seek insight and share perspectives." 

In their first Q&A session, Petraeus invited her along for a run with his team around the Potomac River. It was both a matching of wits and physical acumen as Broadwell disclosed later in her book's preface, “I wanted to see if he could keep stride with me.” After earning varsity letters at West Point for cross-country, and track and field, she wrote, “Instead, it became a test for me.” As she breathlessly struggled to keep a six minute pace, the questions stopped but the relationship endured.

Undoubtedly, it was their similarities that drew them together. In the opening of her biography, she addresses Petraeus’ critics and who fault him for “ambition and self promotion.” The same adjectives could be used to describe Broadwell’s tactics for her book tour following publication of All-In. 

In retrospect, her Daily Show appearance is both brazen and almost hubristic as she details her proximity to the general and close personal insights. At one point, Jon Stewart point blank asks just how she did get so close to the general and she seems to relish in her position of power.

Petraeus’s military record, already written down in the history books will continue to reflect a strong leader who turned the U.S. military’s fate in the middle east around. His accolades will remain great both in scope and in number. Many people, including the president himself, who took 24 hours to accept Petraeus’s resignation, seem to be unwilling to accept the sharp self-rebuke. 

However, in Petraeus’s resignation, it was black and white that as a leader he had to set the example. Whether or not the timing of his resignation was questionable, remains to be seen. It came right before he was set to testify in front of Congress about the Benghazi attacks, and after Obama’s nomination. 

Then there is the question of security breaches, which will undoubtedly be explored if Petraeus still goes before Congress to discuss the Benghazi attacks. These risks are high, but also pale in comparison to the stature and character of the leader who has been discredited due to a petty dalliance.

Many men in positions of power have conducted extra-marital affairs without coming clean or acknowledging their duty as public servants.. So, as per usual, we turn to the temptress, the seductress, the woman who had everything to gain from her relationship with the general. 

While the fault undoubtedly lies with both, sadly, it’s a greater set back for the women serving in both the military and intelligence who strive to accomplish even half as much as Broadwell did. The backlash has begun and the decorated general just may be able to hold on to his stars, but Broadwell’s book’s shelf life may have already expired.