Honoring our country’s military veterans is important. For those who lay down their life to uphold the freedoms we cherish, we rightly celebrate their service, not just on Veterans Day, but year round. Parades, cheering crowds and other celebrations took place across the country on Sunday, but while thousands of veterans received their just tribute, there was at least one soldier whose service and dedication did not receive the praise it should have. After 37 years of honorable service, four-star General David Petraeus’ reputation is being dragged through the streets and dissected in media reports. This is not how we honor our veterans.
After leading coalition forces in Iraq, where he was credited with counterinsurgency tactics that turned the tide of war, Petraeus became head of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2011. Once at CIA, the FBI began background investigations to identify any potential security threats, as they do with many government employees. About four months ago, the FBI uncovered evidence that the general was having an extramarital affair with his biographer. This was a potential security issue that required further investigation, as the relationship could be used to extract sensitive information, such as through blackmail.
Here is a critical point many seem to be ignoring – there was no security threat found. More than that, Petraeus’ resignation from CIA puts a definitive end to any possible threats, which should be the end of the story. But major media outlets continue reporting like a group of gossiping school girls. They note sensitive information was not compromised but then proceed to rip apart Petraeus’ private life, that of his biographer, and generally shame two individuals who likely feel enough guilt as it is.
Sex scandals are all too common in Washington, occurring at all levels of leadership, from the White House on down. In the heated partisan climate, infidelities are used as political leverage – such as with President Bill Clinton (although the threat to the “rule of law” was at the heart of Clinton’s impeachment), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Senator and one-time presidential hopeful John Edwards, to name a few. These were elected officials, and for voters, moral issues can be as important as economic or governmental goals.
Gen. Petraeus was not an elected official. He was appointed to lead one of the country’s intelligence agencies because of his experience and his consistently high performance. Now, as he retreats from the public eye to deal with his personal life, most media outlets are reporting the scandal as if Petraeus had in some way violated his fidelity to the country.
This is a man who for decades led warriors into battle, having a significant impact on the way the country’s military is run and in the wars we fight. He dedicated his life to serving, advancing and protecting America’s interests. He put everything he had on the line. The country should thank him even as we thank other servicemen and women in honor of Veterans Day. But this is not what is happening in the public forum, and it is shameful.
It was not OK for the head of CIA to have an extramarital affair because of the potential threat to information security. Petraeus has stepped down, and the FBI has found no evidence that information was compromised. Why is this still the public’s business? It’s not. On this Veterans Day, we should give the general the privacy he surely wants and not taint his honorable career in the collective memory with events and relationships that are frankly none of our concern. Which leaves only one thing to be said:
Thank you for your service, General Petraeus.
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