— Adm. James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, was cautioned by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to exercise better oversight of his staff after an investigation into travel and expense questions, including a trip to a wine dinner in France. Stavridis was cleared of any misconduct.
Stephen Biddle, a military expert at George Washington University who has advised American commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, said it's hard to judge whether misconduct like adultery is more prevalent among American generals today than in decades past, or whether it has simply become more difficult for adulterers to keep their secret.
"It clearly was never zero," he said, noting the widespread belief that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had an extramarital affair while in the Army.
Today's military faces a troubling combination of misbehavior at both ends of the rank spectrum.
Concerns about troop behavior hit new heights after a series of widely publicized episodes in Afghanistan: the mistaken burning of Qurans, images of Marines urinating on insurgents' corpses and an alleged rampage by a soldier now on trial for the deaths of 16 Afghan civilians.
It was in that context that Panetta counseled troops last May to watch their step.
"These days, it takes only seconds — seconds — for a picture, a photo, to suddenly become an international headline," Panetta told soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga. "And those headlines can impact the mission that we're engaged in, they can put your fellow service members at risk, they can hurt morale, they can damage our standing in the world and they can cost lives."
The warnings from Panetta and other top military leaders — including the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Amos — reflected a worry that the military has let its standards erode and its discipline falter, even as the burdens and sacrifices of war have begun to ease with the end of the Iraq war and a winding down in Afghanistan.
Some military analysts see a broader problem among American generals and the institutions that develop, promote and manage them.
In an essay adapted from his new book, "The Generals," author Thomas Ricks wrote in the November issue of The Atlantic magazine that mediocrity is pervasive among the ranks of today's military leaders.
"Ironically, our generals have grown worse as they have been lionized more and more by a society now reflexively deferential to the military," Ricks wrote.
Burns reported from Perth, Australia.
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