Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus, formerly the Commanding General of Ft. Leavenworth, just 45 minutes from me by car, and also formerly the Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, resigned his most recent post as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) on Friday, citing an extra-marital affair. His resignation came just days before he was scheduled to testify before a Congressional committee about the C.I.A.’s role in September’s deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya (which he can still be forced to do under subpoena), but even assuming that the disclosure of the affair was the sole precipitating factor (it’s still unclear whether someone else publicized it — or threatened to publicize it — before Petreaus did), Petreaus’ resignation was the right thing to do. Here’s why:
That kind of a secret can compromise national security by causing a public official, Petraeus in this case, to weigh his own interests against the nation’s interests in the event of an extortion attempt — not so much extortion attempted by the woman or women involved, although that’s certainly possible, but primarily extortion attempted by others (e.g. foreign governments, drug cartels, even domestic financial opportunists) who may learn of it. In addition, compromising oneself as Petreaus did calls into question both the integrity and the judgment of the public official — his achievements notwithstanding, as a psychologist and management consultant, I can tell you unequivocally that it’s reasonable to expect dishonesty, selfishness, and impulsivity in one’s personal life to generalize to one’s professional life (i.e. when such traits manifest at home, it proves that one at least has the capacity, if not the tendency, to manifest similar traits at work).