WASHINGTON -- When military officers, foreign correspondents or aid workers go to war, their world suddenly becomes an entirely new one. Nothing that was familiar is so any longer. They find themselves doing things they never before dreamed they would do.
That, it strikes me, is most probably the situation former CIA Director David Petraeus found himself in, along with a beautiful Army reservist who was as much an obsessive on running long miles as "her" four-star general. From the time they met several years ago, the two West Pointers seemed almost like clones: Both had to do everything perfectly, whether running, strategizing or, one strongly suspects, conducting an illicit affair.
At this point, it's clear that they should have stopped with the strategizing.
For the world of war, violence and destruction they shared was -- and always has been -- partly hell and partly perversely beguiling. During a war or revolution, emotions are heightened sharply. It doesn't matter whether the person is a military officer, a newspaper correspondent or an aid worker -- you are greatly enlivened (at least, until you're killed or wounded or lose the war).
Despite the killings and the destruction, people in a war zone would not be there if they did not think they were embarking upon a noble cause.
Of course, your loved ones at the other end of the world, physically and spiritually, barely understand you. To become a war-lover, to seek out danger instead of avoiding it and, yes, to remember the world of home and wives and ordinary emotions as tedious and worthy only of the lesser blessed -- not only is that what you have come to, but it is what your family feared you would come to.
But think of Gen. Petraeus and the awful mess this supremely talented man has gotten himself into, at least in part because of these points.
Another West Point grad at the top of her class, married, mother of two and all-round high achiever, Paula Broadwell first met the general when she was writing her dissertation on him. He helped her, as he had helped many (they called him affectionately a "mentor"), and their friendship grew until she determined to turn her work into a book. To do that, she spent the better part of a year in Afghanistan, working alongside him.
Many of his officers, some perhaps out of jealousy, looked askance at the developing relationship, but nothing more came of it until last summer when the FBI began investigating harassing e-mails to another woman. At this point, the secret Petraeus/Broadwell love affair slipped out of the loose corners.
SHOCK was the result of all of this unexpected revelation in Washington, with most friends of the general simply unable to believe that Petraeus, by then director of the CIA, would behave in such a way to threaten his job, his marriage and his good name. (What foreign correspondents in war zones can do -- and do, do -- on a regular basis are not things that four-star generals do!)
The third woman has also now been identified. She is Jill Kelley, wife in a couple who are close friends with Petraeus and his popular wife, Holly. No information has come forward as to why Paula Broadwell might have wanted to send, if indeed she did, threatening e-mails to Mrs. Kelley.
Petraeus, on the other hand, is known to have a heavy hand with the e-mails, having sent upwards of 1,000 to Paula Broadwell in the last couple of years.
Before President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of Petraeus from the CIA, many people were hitherto thinking of the general as a future candidate for president. But his wartime plaudits are not without those who would think twice about them.
Gen. Petraeus, it is said, was the first one to introduce counterinsurgency into the Iraq War. Yet counterinsurgency has been a strategy for thousands of years. Petraeus, it is said, is the military winner of the Iraq war. Yet what he really did was woo over the tribes and their chiefs with generous down payments. These were successful tactics, but not particularly unique or original ways of winning the war.
In the war that continues in Iraq, the two religious groups, Shiite and Sunni, are still at each other's throats, and the Iraqi government's greatest influence comes from and through Iran. Gen. Petraeus did not get us "out of Iraq"; he allowed us, with a modicum of decorum, to evacuate with some dignity.
One suspects that the story of David and Paula will be debated for a long time in the drawing rooms of Washington embassies. Perhaps someday, someone will ask them if it was all worth it.