Gnomicon 186

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Gnomicon  186
Wednesday 14 November 2012
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“The Bathsheba Syndrome”
Tom Shanker
The New YorkTimes (13 Nov 2012)

Since everybody else is writing and wringing hands about l’affaire Petraeus, I’ll join the jeremiads.

It’s a very, very old story – an old story about a guy who just can’t seem to keep it zipped.  It’s the story (as noted in an article in yesterday’s [13 Nov 2012] Times) of concupiscent David getting rid of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, so he can have her all to himself (2 Samuel 11).  And it’s older than Homer’s Iliad and unzipped Paris (not exactly the Petraeus of his day, but close enough for government work!), and it shows up – in one shape-shifting form or another — everywhere in Greek Tragedy. Everywhere: in a nutshell – a high-octane hubris (ὕβρις) blinds the high-and-mighty to the appreciation that they too are not above but very much subject to society’s normative limitations that apply to all humans … and off the cliff they step.

And l’affaire Petraeus is an absolute classic!

Although I hold no brief for adultery, and in general certainly think it’s a very bad idea, I leave to others more pure than I the gratifying frissons of condemnatory moralizing.  My interest in the matter here is the fall-out.  Petraeus was not in the military (he was head of the C.I.A.) and thus apparently he did not with his adultery (criminally) violate any military laws.  Again, while the head of an important federal agency probably should have better self-control and certainly better judgment, unless adultery is a crime where he formally lives, as a civilian he apparently broke no general laws either.  By all accounts Petraeus was rock-solid from a strictly military point of view, an exemplary soldier who successfully accomplished the difficult missions with which he was tasked.  Would he have been fired if he had not resigned?  Did Clinton – another adulterous civilian who was head of a major federal agency as it were – resign or get fired for adultery back in the day?  How about that other adulterous president, you know the one, FDR?  Did that other highly competent adulterous general — Eisenhower?

Is the country better off because Petraeus no longer heads the C.I.A.?  Do we all feel safer now?  are we all safer now?

In the still evolving story I have not yet come across any evidence or even suspicion that his actions in any way have compromised the security of this country, and on the assumption that such continues to prove to be the case, let’s put a plug in it!

Some decades back we once did have a leader who came across as highly moralistic and no doubt was and who was not, I am sure, an adulterer except in his own heart.  Does anybody want him – or someone like him — back to lead us again?

An effective leader may not exactly be someone we might want a Sunday School class to look up to as a model for emulation in terms of all his dealings, but do we really want a leader who is Mr. Nice Guy?  It’s sad that Petraeus’ actions hurt people in his family and probably disappointed others who knew and admired him for any number of reasons, but is any of that really my concern? or yours?

As long as he did his job?

Did he fail his country in the tasks he was set?

Perhaps I’m in a small minority here, but I do have some vague recollection of something pretty good I once read (and have not forgotten)  in John 8:7?

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2 Responses to Gnomicon 186

  1. Al Cram says:

    I agree completely. Now they have dragged another competent general into this mess because he knew and had emails with some of the people linked to the Petraeus “scandal”. The media has obviously run out of election news and they are desperate for something that might inflame the passions of the public. Could John Kennedy have survived his affair with Marilyn in this current journalistic feeding frenzy? If fidelidty becomes the ultimate yard stick for public office there will not be many candidates capable of surviving the vetting process. Even Carter admitted to lust in his heart, and from the highest of moral standards even that might disqualify him in some of the most puritanical circles. We are living the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

    Perhaps Petraeus is getting out on purpose. If he is head of the CIA he can’t very well begin campaigning for the Presidency in 2016. After all, the pre presidential proclivities of Bill Clinton were known to those who bothered to look before he ran for the office. Given the General’s ability to analyze and solve some very difficult problems I would be willing to listen to his thoughts about how we might get out of the mess we are in today. Not that this is a likely scenario.

  2. laohutiger says:

    Very much to the point, and as always I appreciate the comeback!

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