A Shadow over U.S. Military Leadership ; Inappropriate Behavior Had Already Cast Shadow over Military's Top Ranks

By Shanker, Thom | International Herald Tribune, November 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

A Shadow over U.S. Military Leadership ; Inappropriate Behavior Had Already Cast Shadow over Military's Top Ranks


Shanker, Thom, International Herald Tribune


David H. Petraeus's resignation as director of the CIA, although he had already retired from the military, was a reminder of the kind of behavior that has cast a shadow over the military's highest ranks.

Along with a steady diet of books on leadership and management, the reading list at U.S. military "charm schools" that groom officers for ascending to general or admiral includes an essay, "The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders," that recalls the moral failure of the Old Testament's King David, who ordered a soldier on a mission of certain death -- solely for the chance to take his wife, Bathsheba.

The not-so-subtle message: Be careful out there, and act better.

Despite the warnings, a worrisomely large number of senior officers have been investigated and even fired for poor judgment, malfeasance and sexual improprieties or sexual violence -- and that is just in the last year.

Gen. William Ward of the army, known as Kip, the first officer to open the new Africa Command, came under scrutiny for allegations of misusing tens of thousands of government dollars for travel and lodging.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, is confronting the military equivalent of a grand jury to decide whether he should stand trial for adultery, sexual misconduct and forcible sodomy, stemming from relationships with five women.

James H. Johnson III, a former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was expelled from the army, fined and reduced in rank to lieutenant colonel from colonel after being convicted of bigamy and fraud stemming from an improper relationship with an Iraqi woman and business dealings with her family.

The air force is struggling to recover from a scandal at its basic training center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where six male instructors were charged with crimes including rape and adultery after female recruits told of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

In the navy, Rear Adm. Charles M. Gaouette was relieved of command of the Stennis aircraft carrier strike group -- remarkably, while the task force was deployed in the Middle East. Officials said that the move was ordered after "inappropriate leadership judgment." No other details were given.

While there is no evidence that David H. Petraeus had an extramarital affair while serving as one of the nation's most celebrated generals, his resignation last week as director of the Central Intelligence Agency -- a job President Barack Obama said he could take only if he left the army -- was a sobering reminder of the kind of inappropriate behavior that has cast a shadow over the military's highest ranks.

Those concerns were only heightened on Tuesday when it was revealed that Gen. John R. Allen, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is under investigation for what a senior defense official said was "inappropriate communication" with Jill Kelley, the woman in Tampa, Florida, who was seen as a rival for Mr. Petraeus's attentions by Paula Broadwell, who had an extramarital affair with Mr. Petraeus.

The episodes have prompted concern that something may be broken, or at least fractured, across the military's culture of leadership. Some wonder whether its top officers have forgotten the lessons of Bathsheba: The crown of command should not be worn with arrogance, and while rank has its privileges, remember that infallibility and entitlement are not among them.

David S. Maxwell, a retired army colonel serving as associate director for security studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, said that the instances of failed or flawed leadership were "tragic and serious" but that he doubted there were more today, on a relative scale, than in the past.

Mr. Maxwell noted that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, both wartime presidents, fired many more generals than Presidents George W. …

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