Gen. David Petraeus scandal displays the range of human misbehavior

I’ve been incredulously half-following the media reports of the scandal involving General David Petraeus; his paramour Paula Broadwell; Jill Kelley, whose complaint about harassing emails touched off the investigation; Natalie Khawam, Kelley’s twin sister who was embroiled in a nasty custody fight; General John Allen, who allegedly sent “flirtatious” emails to Kelley; and a shirtless FBI agent.

This story is so convoluted that it’s tough to follow all the characters and allegations. I found a really good summary on, complete with updates as the story got thicker and thicker:

The David Petraeus Scandal, Explained

I thought there must be a lesson in this story somewhere for Lovefraud readers. But what might it be?

Perhaps it is simply that human beings are capable of a wide range of bad and/or stupid behavior, not all of it sociopathic.  So here are a few key points that we can draw from the tawdry mess:

1. Smart people are capable of doing stupid things.

Gen. David Petraeus was not only a highly decorated military man credited with “saving” America’s war effort in Iraq, he was also a Princeton Ph.D. Yet he was willing to risk his entire career on an extramarital affair. Some may argue that powerful people have been engaging in sexual liaisons for millennia and it’s nobody’s business. Regardless, Petraeus had to know that if the affair were discovered, the media would have a field day and his legacy would be ruined. That’s exactly what happened.

2. Power corrupts. 

Powerful people tend to believe that they can do what they want and get away with anything. Those in the orbit of powerful people like to flaunt their access. Others want to associate with powerful people, and will go into debt throwing lavish parties to gain the access, well, because they like power too, even if it’s only by association. But there comes a point where power leads to trouble, as many people in this story have discovered.

3. Nothing is truly private.

Petraeus was sending emails to Broadwell, Broadwell was allegedly sending threatening emails to Kelley and Kelley was exchanging “flirtatious messages” with Allen. Now we all know. And the twins, Kelley and Khawam, are both heavily in debt and have multiple lawsuits filed against them. All of their dirty laundry has become the fodder for the voracious media machine. Nothing on the Internet dies. And when records are public—or even if they aren’t—someone will find them.

So what conclusions can we draw?

All human behavior is on a continuum. The right amount of power and aggression can lead to successful military career—too much power and aggression can lead to murder. The right amount of libido leads to a healthy intimate relationship—too much leads to recklessness, promiscuity and coercive sex. A certain amount of risk taking leads to financial growth—too much leads to debt, foreclosure and lawsuits.

In the end, I suppose the lesson of this saga is that people are complicated, life is messy, and we should all be wary of unintended consequences.

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32 Comments on "Gen. David Petraeus scandal displays the range of human misbehavior"

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Interesting article

At least 30 per cent of military commanders fired over the past eight years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships.

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I saw the same article this morning. I’m not surprised in the slightest…actually when I saw it, I just said to myself…no kidding. Sad, but true.

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