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The Tennessean Features Editorial by James Mackler Discussing the Legal and Moral Ramifications of the Gen. Petraeus Affair

By James Mackler

Featured in the The Tennessean
This past Veterans Day weekend marked the 10-year anniversary of the day that I joined the Army. The holiday is usually an opportunity for me to reflect on my time in service and to note the contributions and sacrifices of my brothers and sisters in arms.

My thoughts, however, were clouded with a feeling of disappointment and sadness by news reports of David Petraeus’ criminal behavior.

It pains me to write these words. My first assignment as a new officer was with the 101st Airborne. Gen. Petraeus had not yet led the surge or written the manual on counterinsurgency, but he had already obtained a status just short of legendary. He was (I thought) the model of what every officer should strive for: a tactical expert and a man of personal honor and integrity.

All was not as it seemed. The general had an affair with Paula Broadwell, another Army officer. Unlike in the civilian world, adultery is a crime in the military. It is punishable under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The maximum punishment is a dishonorable discharge and up to a year in jail.

There is good reason to hold the military to a higher standard. Adultery undermines the discipline, trust and cohesion necessary for an effective fighting force. It discredits the armed forces, undermining public support and recruiting. It also is a slap in the face to the families left behind. They should not have to add marital infidelity to their list of worries when a loved one deploys.

The Army’s Manual for Courts Martial gives commanders a list of factors to consider when determining whether to prosecute adultery. These include, among other things, the accused’s marital status and rank; the co-actor’s marital status, rank and position; the status of the accused’s spouse; the impact of the relationship on the ability to perform military duties; the misuse of government time and resources; and the negative impact on the unit. By these measures, Gen. Petraeus’ crime was very serious.

He was a married, high-ranking leader, having an affair with another married officer who was potentially under his command. The affair appears to have taken place on a military installation using government resources, and evidence was found on a government computer. If the general were a lower-ranking soldier, he would face serious consequences. He certainly would not simply submit a letter of resignation and move on with his life.

A large portion of the public seems to believe that Gen. Petraeus should not have resigned. Is our nation so desperate for effective leadership that we are willing to allow a man who has admitted to criminal conduct to continue to run the country’s top spy agency? Do we want a man who exercised such extraordinarily poor judgment to decide who lives and dies via remote drone strikes?

Gen. Petraeus is a great American, but no one is irreplaceable. Another capable leader will step up to lead the CIA. I will turn my thoughts to the soldiers who, year in and year out, remain faithful to both their family and their country. They are the veterans whom I will honor.

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