Why Is the Petraeus Affair a Scandal?

Let’s turn off The Real Generals of Tampa and deal with real issues.

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There's the four-star general-turned-top spy who was canoodling with his adoring, hyper-fit, married biographer. Then the apparently jealous author wrote warning E-mails to another woman, a Tampa "socialite" whom she thought was getting too close to her married former lover. Then the Florida hostess told a friend who also happens to be in the FBI, and seems to be either fond of her or just have an odd sense of humor, since he sent a shirtless photo of himself to her. Enter another general, who sent "flirtatious" emails to the Florida party-giver.

Is this a portrait of the people fighting our wars, and the women around them? Or is this Melrose Place?

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

The so-called scandal surrounding Gen. David Petraeus, a widely respected military leader, is getting way out of hand. So far—and it's true, we don't yet have the full story—we know of no security breaches committed by either Petraeus or the other E-mailing officer, Marine Gen. John Allen. The FBI has found classified information at the home of the West Point grad/biographer Paula Broadwell, but we don't know how serious the information is, or how she got it. She's a smart and well-connected person, and she was writing a book. There are many ways she could have gotten the information.

What is in question is what we think of as a "scandal." The failure to do anything about climate change—never mind the people who outright deny it is happening, despite the "once-in-a-century" storms that are happening every couple of years? There's a scandal. A war in Iraq that has cost unnecessary lives and suffering and money American can't afford to throw around? Scandal. Or what about $6 billion spent on federal campaigns, much of it coming from wealthy Americans trying to influence power with money? Another scandal. And the fact that Congress is so dysfunctional and divided that we are dangerously close to a "fiscal cliff" because they just refuse to give in to each other? Scandal, yet again.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

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?

The whole episode makes one want to put a bag over one's head as the rest of the world, Europe in particular, watches America get into a tizzy over the private behavior of consenting adults. But gossiping about sex is an easier lift than dealing with real scandals involving an ill-conceived war, environmental irresponsibility and fiscal mismanagement. Isn't it time elected officials turned off The Real Generals of Tampa and got down to work?

  • Read Ford O'Connell: Fixing the Fiscal Cliff and Immigration Are Keys to a GOP Revival
  • Read Jamie Stiehm: The FBI Sabotages Petraeus—And Obama
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