During his first press conference since winning reelection, President Obama said this:
By his own assessment, (Petraeus) did not meet the standards that he felt were necessary as the director of CIA with respect to this personal matter that he is now dealing with with his family and with his wife. And it’s on that basis that he tendered his resignation, and it’s on that basis that I accepted it. But I want to emphasize that, from my perspective at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service. We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done. And my main hope right now is — is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.
At that point, in a different sort of culture than ours, the president would have pivoted to another American family, maybe saying “Michelle and I also hope that Paula Broadwell, her husband, and her two children are able to heal and get on with their lives.”
But he didn’t say anything like that. Listening live, I was both unsurprised and a bit disappointed, since I can’t imagine any president ever who’d be more likely to spare a compassionate thought for Broadwell’s kids, at least, and maybe even for every single soul spinning around in the cyclone of the Petraeus scandal. In his silence, our supposedly Kenyan president strikes me as very American.
For context, I recommend Amy Davidson’s newyorker.com piece about “The Kay Summersby Defense.” It starts like this:
There are plenty of reasons for women, generally, to be discouraged by both the fact and the coverage of the Petraeus scandal. It began with the comparison of the looks of Paula Broadwell, his lover, and Holly Petraeus, his wife, who are twenty years apart in age—as if older women could have no expectation of fidelity—and an almost gleeful cataloging of Broadwell’s wardrobe, body, and, as a Petraeus associate put it anonymously, the “claws” that she got into the General. (“You’re a 60 year-old man and an attractive woman almost half your age makes herself available to you—that would be a test for anyone.”) She wore tight clothes in Afghanistan; she wore a halter at the Pentagon. As Frank Bruni of the Times noted, the odd detail from her life—“her long-ago coronation as homecoming queen, her six-minute mile”—was “presented not merely as a matter of accomplishment, but as something a bit titillating, perhaps a part of the trap she laid.” Then, before one had time to brood much on the foolishness of powerful men, attention shifted to side-by-side analyses of Broadwell and Jill Kelley, the “Tampa socialite,” whose interactions were described as a “cat-fight.”
It’s possible to face this scandal and still respect ourselves in the morning. Maybe we should start by calling ourselves out. For me, this means admitting that I needed to talk myself into seeing Broadwell as anything like a full person. At first, she was more of a type or a character. All I could picture was a striving, scheming Tracy Flick when I read various bits of the advice Broadwell gave in this interview:
… my college alumnae group … was instrumental in helping me to gain access to key players in the government and military for my book-writing endeavor. This was easy to do given the strength of weak ties amongst members of the West Point “Long Gray Line,” as the alumni group is called. Membership in this “fraternity” meant ease of access to most all graduates — peers as well as superiors — in part through our common formative experience and shared values instilled by our alma mater. Obviously, I shared this common ground with Petraeus and had a bit of instant rapport. Additionally, four of my West Point classmates had been general’s aides to General Petraeus; one of my professors at West Point as a cadet served with Petraeus in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and became an excellent source for material as well as guidance for my endeavors; others in the book were soldiers and officers with whom I’d studied or served abroad and most were willing to provide info or make introductions. Mapping out these networks and understanding who key players are, then capitalizing on how you can help each other is a helpful approach to connecting to important networks, and better enabling the exchange of information and assistance.
What’s becoming obvious are the limits of Broadwell’s “membership in this ‘fraternity’.” She seems also to have misjudged that “experience in a man’s world has uniquely positioned me to have greater opportunities to serve at the highest levels of government in the future.” She is, for the moment, nothing but a woman with a scarlet letter.