Gen. David Petraeus has resigned his post as Director of the CIA. He explains his reasons in a letter:
Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.
People immediately asked: “Do you really have to resign over an extramarital affair?” The question is a fair one: If a man is fulfilling all his professional duties fully, does a personal issue like this matter?
However obscured the answer is in any other areas of life, the particular pressures of the intelligence world bring into focus a universal truth: Every compromise, personal or professional, affects the whole man. A private affair calls into question an intelligence officer’s judgment and, if kept secret, opens him to blackmail or other sorts of pressure, thus endangering his security clearance.
Petraeus knew all this, of course, and still acted in a way he clearly feels to have been wrong. While it may not have been strictly necessary for Petraeus to resign (I’m sure we’ll learn more about this from the lawyers and others who regularly handle such cases), his case nonetheless brings into focus the necessary connection between the personal and professional.
The Petraeus affair can be taken, then, as yet another sign that the Clinton era is over. Clinton’s successful battle against impeachment succeeded on technicalities but at the basic level asserted that the personal really could be disentangled from the professional, that a peccadillo never could rise to the level of a firing offense.
We’ve been digesting this claim ever since. Shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos achieved immense critical success while offering extended meditations on—and rejections of—this idea. General Petraeus’ resignation offers a more concise, and very unfortunate, lesson on the same subject. Nor should it go unnoted that America just reelected a man who, whatever one makes of his politics, to all appearances acts with immense personal integrity.