The Fall of a General
Klaidman, Daniel, Sheehy, Gail, Newsweek
Byline: Daniel Klaidman and Gail Sheehy; With reporting by John Barry, Christopher Dickey, Jesse Ellison, and Eli Lake.
David Petraeus subdued Iraq, steered the course for exit in Afghanistan, and is one of the most decorated generals of his generation. So why was he no match for his biographer?
From all appearances, David Petraeus was in his element. It was the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 7, and the CIA director was the keynote speaker at a high-minded foreign-policy conference in Washington held by the World Affairs Councils of America. The audience of roughly 250 people crowded into a ballroom to hear what was billed as an off-the-record conversation with the legendary general-turned-spy chief.
Petraeus held forth on a vast range of global topics, including U.S. economic competitiveness, China, Afghanistan-Pakistan policy, and the turmoil in the Middle East. "He was thoughtful and methodical," gushed one participant. "Wow, what an amazing mind." It was the kind of virtuoso performance for which Petraeus had become known: an effortless, incisive tour of the world.
At that very moment, however, Petraeus's own private world was cracking at the seams. Earlier that day, his boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, had confronted Petraeus about his affair with his 40-year-old biographer, Paula Broadwell. Clapper had urged his colleague to resign, and Petraeus agreed that he had no other choice. "It was," says Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper, "a difficult and wrenching conversation."
Now as Petraeus wowed the audience at the World Affairs conference, Clapper was delivering the news of the CIA director's affair to the White House. After the event, as the guest of honor sped off into the night, people still milled about the ballroom where the conference was being held. They had no idea that anything was amiss.
Soon enough, the people who attended the event, like the rest of America, would begin to learn about a different side of Petraeus. But even as details of the scandal have trickled out, some fundamental questions about the relationship between Petraeus and Broadwell have remained cloudy. What drove this most disciplined of men to be so reckless? What accounted for the bond that he formed with Broadwell? And above all: what might have caused these two particular people to have an affair at this particular time?
Petraeus may have moved effortlessly from the battlefield to the corridors of power in Washington, but it is important to remember that he was a pure product of the military's insular culture, with its own language, tribal codes, and belief systems. He had grown up the son of a "crusty old Dutch sea captain," with exacting expectations, as he put it to Newsweek in 2011. Failing to meet standards resulted in an icy-blue stare and a growl. "Results, boy, results!" his father would say, according to Petraeus.
During his remarkable rise through the military's ranks, Petraeus certainly delivered results. Speaking in Washington at a summit sponsored by Newsweek last week (at which Petraeus had been scheduled to appear), Adm. William McRaven, while making clear that he did not condone his colleague's extramarital affair, summed up his achievements this way: "David Petraeus made decisions every day ... that saved thousands of lives--tens of thousands of lives. You'll never know who those people were, because their lives were saved by the decisions that David Petraeus made. I've never seen a guy more committed to his job, more caring about his soldiers. He had a great sense of duty."
After leading the successful surge in Iraq, Petraeus had been elevated to the head of Central Command, based in Tampa, where he oversaw the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His relentless travel pace kept him away from his home base for all but about four days a month. Nevertheless he found time to mingle with the local community, which is how he met Jill Kelley, a socialite and "honorary" ambassador to CentCom--and the person who would later allege that she was being cyberstalked, triggering the investigation that led to Petraeus's downfall. …