Son of a gun

Americans, especially those of the neocon persuasion, tend to dislike the French, whom they call ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’. This tendency intensified in 2002, when the French wisely refused to send their troops to Iraq.

But even the most passionate American Francophobes have to realise that they have much to learn from the French in at least one aspect of human behaviour: conducting a discreet extramarital affair.

Rumour has it that, when Moses descended from the mountain, he told the Israelites, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, I got him down to ten. The bad news is, adultery stays.’

True enough, this misdemeanour commandment says ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, not ‘Thou shalt not get caught.’ Also true, however, is that neither the Israelites nor many people of other nativities have since followed the seventh commandment with unwavering piety.

If we accept this simple observation, then surely the insouciant French culture of a cinq-à-sept is preferable to the tawdry spectacle starring Gen. David ‘Peaches’ Petraeus. If a little dalliance is worth doing, it’s worth doing with a modicum of decency and style.

The press is portraying Petraeus as a martial genius eclipsing the combined talents of Hannibal, Marlborough and Napoleon. Apparently this old dog of war came up with some new anti-insurgency tricks during the ‘surge’ in Iraq, putting the ghastly terrorists to flight and himself on a fast track to the White House. After all, if Gen. Eisenhower could become President, what’s Gen. Petraeus? Chopped liver?

I don’t know about that. The salient difference between the two men is that Eisenhower won his war and Petraeus didn’t. Neither historians nor electorates  elevate to greatness commanders who personally did well in a losing effort, such as the ill-advised American action in the Middle East.

The two men do have something in common: both had wartime mistresses, though, if Kate Summersby’s 1976 memoir is to be believed, Ike wasn’t a patch on ‘Peaches’ in the virility stakes. Then again, he had a dodgy heart and didn’t run a marathon every morning before his cornflakes.

What is striking about this whole affair isn’t so much its immorality, nor even the possible security breaches involved, as its utter, unmitigated vulgarity. A salient feature of our post-modernity is that it’s mostly vulgarians who achieve prominence. This seems to be an ironclad requirement communicated to celebrity candidates at job interviews. ‘Yes, Sir, but how vulgar are you? On a scale of one to ten? Do you have references? I have reports here that say you’re only a seven, not the ten you claim…’

What kind of man, never mind a military genius or, come to that, head of an intelligence service, can be so stupid as to leave a small library of pornographic e-mails on his computer? As a matter of fact, what kind of man, even if he doesn’t occupy a sensitive position, would send such messages? Sex under a desk may be part of life but it doesn’t belong in the epistolary genre. And surely a four-star general must rate a sofa at his command post?

Admittedly this is tame stuff compared to a President of the United States sticking a cigar, presumably unlit, into a girl’s genitals or masturbating while talking to her on the phone (I suppose that’s what Miss Lewinsky meant when talking about ‘phone sex’). Still, it gives tastelessness a bad name.

And look at the other actors in this comedy of bad manners. Like the muscle-bound Paula Broadwell, a PhD candidate at King’s College, no less, setting up dummy e-mail accounts to harass her presumed rival for Peaches’s affection. I’m amazed she didn’t beat her up in a dark alley – why not put all that narcissistic fitness to work? I don’t know if they teach vulgarity at King’s College, but if so the academic standard is high. (What they obviously don’t teach is writing, for Paula had to have her hagiography of Peaches ghosted.)

Of course, another possible way out of this triangle would have been to invite Jill Kelley to take part in a threesome – after all, sharing is at the heart of President Obama’s programme for his second term. Or perhaps even a foursome, also including the investigating FBI agent who, rather than flashing his shield, was sending Mrs Kelley half-naked snapshots of himself. And let’s not forget Gen. Allen, another leader of men and lover of women… No, that sort of stuff would have been too French, in the worst sense of the word.

What now? The participants will probably have mixed fortunes. Mrs Kelley is likely to persist with her ‘we’re just friends’ denials until a tabloid has offered her a shot at celebrity for admitting something slightly naughtier, true or false. The FBI agent, he of the seductive torso, will be transferred to traffic duty. Petraeus’s career is finished, and so probably is his marriage. But Paula, once she has emerged from hiding, is clearly on the upswing of a career curve.

She has a bright future in publishing, and I can recommend two projects straight away, both guaranteed bestsellers for our refined times. One would be Paula’s Guide to General Fitness, the other Peaches and Cream: Paula’s Guide to Sexual Gratification.

Before another ghost writer gets his quid in, I volunteer. And if she wants to list Petraeus as a co-author, it’s fine with me. If I didn’t fear being accused of indulging in infantile innuendo yet again, I’d say Peaches has struck a blow for all waning sixtyish gentlemen. Son of a gun, he deserves to have his name on the cover.

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