The Tragedy of John Allen

By Klaidman, Daniel | Newsweek, March 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Tragedy of John Allen


Klaidman, Daniel, Newsweek


Byline: Daniel Klaidman

Did a fine general really deserve such public humiliation?

Sometime this winter, sitting in his hooch in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen was reduced to calculating the simple, inescapable math of wartime separation. He'd been away from his wife and two daughters for more than 50 of the previous 72 months, most of it in war zones. According to an Allen aide, he hadn't taken a vacation with his wife since their two daughters, now grown, were children. In the previous 19 months, as the U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan, the only home leave he'd taken was to return to Washington for strategy meetings. Instead of relaxing with his family, he spent the evenings cramming for congressional hearings.

Through it all, Kathy Allen, his bride of 35 years, had been the ever-dutiful military wife. But what most could not see from the outside was a more private and painful dimension of her sacrifice. The Allens lost all three of their surviving parents between 2010 and 2012. Both of Kathy's parents died in 2010. She bore the weight of losing her mother and father while her husband was away. When Allen's mother was dying last year, the aide said, she shouldered the burden for her husband, shielding him from the full details of her condition so he could lead the war effort in Afghanistan unencumbered by personal preoccupations. Finally, last August she called her husband in Afghanistan to tell him that his mother had died.

Meanwhile, Kathy was suffering from a series of chronic illnesses, including an auto-immune disorder. In recent years, Allen had offered to retire from the military--to "drop his letter," as he put it--should she be overwhelmed. Kathy always said no, soldiering on with little complaint. She has been a "weary stoic," says a friend of the family who didn't want to be named discussing their private affairs.

Those who know Allen say he was extremely devoted to his wife. "John's kind of old-fashioned, almost high Victorian," says Marc Chretien, a State Department official and Allen political adviser. "He's the kind of guy who holds his wife's hand under the table."

Yet last November, just as he was winding down his tour in Afghanistan, Allen became embroiled in the sex scandal that led to the downfall of CIA Director David Petraeus. The news had broken while he was back in Washington awaiting Senate confirmation for his next assignment: Supreme Allied Commander Europe, known colloquially as SACEUR. Instead of a smooth transition to one of the military's most prestigious posts, Allen had become the subject of a full-blown Washington media frenzy.

Petraeus had resigned after it was discovered that he was having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. But by then investigators had uncovered a cache of personal emails between Allen and Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite whom Broadwell saw as a rival for Petraeus's affection. One knowledgeable source recently described the emails to Newsweek as "flirty but unconsummated." Allen denied that he had committed adultery or that there was anything inappropriate about the exchanges. He even let it be known that he had taken precautions never to be alone with Kelley. But bureaucratic and political realities in Washington demanded an investigation, placing Allen under a cloud of suspicion. A source close to the family says the Allens were devastated by the tabloid treatment in the press, including false reports that the email exchanges were the digital equivalent of phone sex.

The White House put the SACEUR nomination on hold while the Pentagon's inspector general conducted its probe. Fifteen investigators worked around the clock examining thousands of emails and other documents, looking for evidence of "conduct unbecoming" an officer or other breaches that might have violated military rules. Allen returned to Kabul to await the findings. All he had to do there was run a war, manage the drawdown of tens of thousands of U. …

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