Is David Petraeus's Affair Really a Scandal?

The media is obsessed with unearthing new developments in the former CIA director's relationship with his biographer.

Gen. David Petraeus, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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The media has breathlessly followed the twists and turns of the unfolding investigation into the affair former CIA Director David Petraeus had with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Now Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and Florida socialite Jill Kelley are also implicated.

Petraeus, the former top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, allegedly began his affair with Broadwell shortly after he started his tenure at the CIA. He has been married for 37 years, and in a letter to CIA staff described his behavior as "unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours."

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the David Petraeus Scandal.]

The affair was uncovered by the FBI after it began an investigation in response to complaints from Kelley, a Petraeus family friend, that she was receiving "harassing" E-mails. It is alleged that the E-mails came from Broadwell, who thought Kelley was also competing for Petraeus's attention. The nature of the Florida woman's relationship with Allen has been called into question, after additional " potentially inappropriate" E-mails were discovered between the two. Kelley and Allen, who are both married and deny having an affair, threw social events together for senior leaders at the Central Command. While an affair is not against the rules at the CIA, under military regulations adultery can be a crime.

U.S. News's Susan Milligan says the country and media have falsely created a sense of scandal around the investigations. She said instead we should be focusing on things like climate change, the war in Iraq, and the fiscal cliff, which are actually scandals.

Why is anything involving sex considered so outrageous? Why is the Petraeus-Broadwell affair anybody's business but theirs (and their spouses)? And Allen's so-called "potentially inappropriate" E-mails? The only evidence so far is that he reportedly referred to Tampa "socialite" (is that a contradiction in terms?) Jill Kelley as "sweetheart." What Taliban standards are we employing if a quaint term of endearment is considered inappropriate?

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should David Petraeus Have Resigned as CIA Director?]

Heather Hurlburt, writing for U.S. News's Debate Club, says the ordeal is more than just a personal tragedy for Petraeus and has larger implications. Because of the leadership roles he held, it is an institutional one as well:

None of the institutions involved looks likely to emerge untarnished. It's clear that senior military and intelligence leaders tolerate a great deal of hypocrisy and unequal power relations among themselves, while punishing it among subordinates; that the FBI at best had a problem with inappropriate behavior by "Agent Shirtless" and at worst abused its surveillance powers considerably …

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