David Petraeus resigned today as director of the CIA, explaining that he had shown “extremely poor judgment” by having an extramarital affair. It is a sad loss for the country. Petraeus’s services have been extraordinary and are too well-known to be recited here. That such a disciplined and dedicated public servant has been brought down by such a lapse seems shocking, but it should not be surprising. As Arthur Schopenhauer wrote:
[Sexual love] is the ultimate goal of almost all human effort; it…interrupts every hour the most serious occupations, and sometimes perplexes for a while even the greatest minds. It does not hesitate…to interfere with negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of the learned. It knows how to slip its love-notes and ringlets even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts…
Somewhere he also has a wonderful image of a diplomat carrying around a lock of a chambermaid’s hair, or something like that, but I can’t immediately find it. In any event, you get the point. Everybody, as Springsteen put it, has a hungry heart. Petraeus will be missed, and the great service he has rendered to his country is not diminished by the circumstances of his departure.
Some observers have been puzzled by Petraeus’s role, or lack thereof, in connection with Benghazi. The CIA was deeply involved in that disaster. Some of those killed worked for the agency, and it was the CIA that made the only effort to rescue the besieged Americans, by dispatching a relief force from Tripoli. Yet Petraeus was silent with respect to the events of September 11, even when the Obama administration lied about them. Such silence seemed uncharacteristic. Perhaps the unraveling of Petraeus’s career in the manner that today became public played a role. Or perhaps not; at this point, one can only speculate.
UPDATE: This gets curiouser: Petraeus was scheduled to testify before a Congressional committee on Benghazi next week, but in view of his resignation his testimony has been canceled. That makes no sense to me. Why should his resignation have anything to do with testifying about events that occurred while he was the director of the agency?
FURTHER UPDATE: Here is the complete text of Petraeus’s letter of resignation:
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.
As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.
Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.
Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.
With admiration and appreciation,
David H. Petraeus
PAUL adds: Thanks for the excellent Arthur “Bud” Schopenhauer reference and picture, John. You obviously got more out of Schopenhauer tutorial at Dartmouth than I did.