David Petraeus and the integrity of public service

David Petraeus resigned from the CIA. His resignation was remarkable for its lack of excuses. It may even be an example of something rare in Washington: Integrity. Photo: Associated Press

JACKSBORO, Texas, November 10, 2012 — CIA Director David Petraeus announced yesterday, “This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”

In his letter of resignation, Petraeus wrote, ”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.”

Most of us probably remember Petraeus as General David Petraeus, commander of our forces in Iraq. General Petraeus was later the top commander of all forces in Afganistan before being named the Director of the CIA.

In Washington, extramarital affairs have been going on since the nation’s conception, and our leaders will continue their adulterous ways long after we are all departed. Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower both carried on affairs, and President Kennedy had sexual appetites as legendary as his oratorical skills. President Clinton did things with cigars that none of us would care to know about, and besides leaving his mark on Welfare Reform and NAFTA, he left it on Monica Lewinski’s blue dress.

Presidential candidate Gary Hart was caught engaging in monkey business on board the Monkey Business. House Ways and Means chairman Wilbur Mills was caught frolicking with Fanne Foxe by Washington’s Tidal Basin. The list of senators and representatives who have been caught with other women, young men, in public restrooms and under bridge tables is distressingly long.

The list of those who have gone gracefully after being caught is distressingly short.

Most of those who have been caught in “indiscretions” have followed one of two paths: They’ve tearfully begged forgiveness from their wives and voters and then vowed to carry on; or they’ve defiantly acted as if no one had any business looking into their private lives.

Petraeus’s resignation is remarkable in this regard. He recognized the importance of trust and example in his position, and he went.

Public service requires men and women of integrity, the sort of men and women we too seldom get. Integrity is more than simple honesty. From the Latin word integer, meaning “whole” or “complete,” integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Integrity demands consistency in values and behavior, and it defines character.

We don’t know the details of Petraeus’ affair, nor can we say whether he acted with integrity when he resigned or whether he resigned only when the affair threatened to become public. There are already theories spinning through the Internet about White House machinations, cover-ups, and the remarkable timing of the resignation. For now let us ignore those and accept the resignation at face value.

Petraeus said as he left the CIA, “As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you. Indeed you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am grateful to you for that”.

President Obama commended Petraeus for his extraordinary service to his country for decades, and in that he was correct. The country has benefitted from the service of David Petraeus, and it owes him gratitude. It owes him gratitude for his resignation as well. Petraeus came forward with the truth, and he did it without excuses or self-justification. Had he remained at the CIA, he’d have been guilty of hypocrisy. That’s intolerable to a man of integrity.

Politicians will continue to cheat on their spouses, cover up and lie. Others will cover up and lie about other “indiscretions,” whether those involve cheating on their spouses or on their taxes, lying about sex or about their complicity in operational disasters. Integrity will be cast aside in the expectation that voters won’t care as long as politicians deliver the results they want. Integrity will remain optional in Washington.

David Petraeus deserves our thanks for reminding us that integrity matters, if not to Washington, at least to living with ourselves.



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George Weir

George Weir is a guest writer for Communities @WashingtonTimes.com

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