CIA Director David Petraeus resigned today, citing an extramarital affair. His resignation letter explains that “After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” and “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.” Generally, I tend to bristle at the notion that someone’s marriage or sex life has anything to do with their ability to do their job. But this is one of the rare occasions when I would have to agree.
The timing of his resignation–just after Obama’s reelection, and just as Congress continues their investigations into the Benghazi attacks–has some wondering if his personal life is his sole motivator, but it wouldn’t be crazy if it were. I’m resisting the temptation to make Homeland jokes here, but outlandish as Carrie Mathison’s hijinks are, they do kind of highlight the problem with having members of the CIA lying and sleeping around. I’m going to assume that Petraeus wasn’t cavorting with terrorists, but still: Sadly, I don’t think the director of the CIA gets as much room for error when it comes to deception.
President Obama‘s official statement announcing Petraeus’ resignation includes a long interlude about his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by a note of condolences:
Today, I accepted his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission, and I have the utmost confidence in Acting Director Michael Morell and the men and women of the CIA who work every day to keep our nation safe. Going forward, my thoughts and prayers are with Dave and Holly Petraeus, who has done so much to help military families through her own work. I wish them the very best at this difficult time.
Most peoples’ marital affairs aren’t anyone’s business but their own (and anyone–kids, mistresses, or otherwise–that they choose to bring into their relationship), and I’m not a fan of judging someone’s job skills based on their personal life. Even Bill Clinton‘s scandalous past doesn’t seem to me like it has any bearing on his ability to participate effectively in politics. But it would seem to me that lying about your personal life–at work, or in your personal life–gets a little more serious if you’re someone whose job is to head up national security. (And it’s not just a matter of judging someone’s integrity; concerns over potential blackmail are a legitimately big deal for someone in such a big role.)
Or maybe I’ve just been watching too much Homeland. What do you think? Is an extramarital affair a good enough reason to resign from the CIA?