Peaches and crime: the ordeal of Gen. Petraeus

When a sixtyish man is habitually called ‘Peaches’ by any woman other than his wife, he isn’t just courting the woman. He is courting trouble.

It’s not just ‘Peaches’ either. At that stage of his life a man shouldn’t acquire, within however limited a circle, any nickname deriving from fruit, domestic pets or the more ferocious animals.

If he does find himself with a name other than the one his parents gave him, the ensuing trouble may come in different forms.

Since the female name-caller typically tends to be younger than the gentleman in question, he risks cardiac arrest trying to keep up with her sexual vigour.

If the young lady widely spreads her affections beyond her elderly swain, he risks contracting the kind of disease that, while merely a nuisance for a younger man, would make him the laughingstock of the clinic.

If he is married, and the affair becomes public knowledge, he risks losing his wife, along with much of what he has amassed during decades of tireless toil.

If he occupies a sensitive position, especially one with access to classified information, a scandal may jettison him onto a life on the lecture circuit.

Gen. David Petraeus, the ‘Peaches’ of my story, successfully avoided the first kind of trouble over his affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell and, one assumes, the second.

Mrs Petraeus hasn’t left him either, and neither has half of their communal property. He lost his job as Director, CIA, but, if anything, that gave him a chance to increase the size of the communal property with lucrative consultancies and speaking engagements.

The tawdry details of the affair did make Gen. David ‘Peaches’ Petraeus look frankly ludicrous, and that seemed to be the real downside at the time.

All sorts of details came out, including the more intimate ones of his trysts with the muscle-bound Paula Broadwell. Apparently she and the super-fit general would turn it on under the desk in his Langley office, presumably to the accompaniment of jangling sounds made by the silver-coated frames enclosing the pictures of Mrs Petraeus and ‘the kids’.

Personally, I’ve always assumed that in order to produce a kid one has to have sex with a goat, rather than Mrs Petraeus, but then we must make allowances for the Americans’ peculiarities of language, custom and morality.

Referring to a child as a ‘kid’ is one of their many linguistic quirks, now being exported to our shores along with sugary drinks, baseball caps worn backwards and verbs made out of nouns.

One of their more quaint customs is insistence on displaying on office desktops triptychs of family photos, augmented if necessary by additional frames to accommodate extra ‘kids’.

That is de rigueur for any self-respecting American executive, while miniature copies of the American flag are optional but highly desirable, especially for an executive in a government job.

The photos are there to demonstrate unswerving devotion to family values, which is why they are usually turned to face the visitors’ chairs. The flags’ function is to reconfirm the office-holder’s allegiance to the constitutional and moral values of the good old US of A.

Both sets of values may justifiably be deemed to have been compromised when the desktop symbols thereof are rocked as if in an earthquake by what’s going on under the desk.

But at least the general did do it under the desk rather than on top of it, which would have meant knocking the symbols off with a mighty sweep of an arm, or else risking an injury to Paula if parts of her body came in contact with the metal frames.

Americans’ sexual morality, as professed rather than practised, is still largely informed by the dubiously Christian sects that insist on the literal reading of the Seventh Commandment and Jesus’s subsequent expansion on it.

Hence a little foray outside marriage vows that would be regarded as a forgivable indiscretion in England and par for the course in France, in America is seen as a sacking offence for anyone in a position of public trust.

That’s what happened to Petraeus when the affair made the papers. The disclosure came as a result of Paula’s continual harassment of another woman, a putative rival for Peaches’s affections. The woman went to the police, the police intervened and harvested a rich crop of pornographic messages in the e-mails the lovers had exchanged.

That brought into question not just the general’s moral fibre but indeed his suitability for the top intelligence job in the world. After all, even a rank amateur untrained in spying tradecraft knows not to leave a paper or electronic trail when cheating on his wife.

Hence Petraeus’s enforced resignation was justified, if only for the incompetence he had demonstrated in the skills of his new profession.

Unfortunately, however, the e-mails revealed more than just the general’s ability to express himself romantically in the language of porn magazines.

For a search of Paula’s e-mails showed a wealth of classified material she had apparently received from the general, including access to CIA communications. Suddenly what started out to be naughty began to look criminal.

Under such circumstances the FBI and Justice Department are usually rather quick on the trigger. However, since a celebrated four-star general was involved, it has taken them two years to recommend that felony charges be brought.

Yet recommend it they have, and Gen. Petraeus is in danger of losing more than just his wife’s good graces. If charged, tried and convicted, he faces a long prison term.

The general denies any culpability in the matter, and has let it be known that he won’t accept any plea deal. This may be a bluff or a profession of genuine innocence.

I hope it’s the latter, and I wish Gen. Petraeus every luck in the world. This, however, doesn’t prevent me from having nightmares about the kind of people on whom the security of the world depends.

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