Paula Broadwell’s affair with CIA Director David Petraeus has long since become the spiciest of DC gossip stories, with just a little bit of national security risk to add to the tawdriness.
However, for a torrid affair that seems to have been going on for some time, one thing sticks out about the relationship between Petraeus and Broadwell – namely, very few people seem to have suspected its existence. In fact, according to none other than Broadwell’s co-author on her biography of Petraeus – Washington Post editor Vernon Loeb – the relationship seemed almost outlandishly difficult to imagine. Loeb writes about his bewilderment in today’s Washington Post, describing Petraeus and Broadwell as seemingly the least likely people to have an affair, least of all with each other:
I never anticipated the extramarital affair between David H. Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, the woman I’d worked with for 16 months on a book about Petraeus’s year commanding the war in Afghanistan. On rare occasions, her good looks and close access would prompt a colleague to raise an eyebrow about their relationship, but I never took it seriously.[…]
I assumed, given how public their semi-official relationship was, that he would never engage in any risky behaviour. He’d always preached to his protégés that character was what you did when no one was watching. And he would always hasten to add, from his most public of perches, that “someone is always watching.”
There was no protégé more ardent than Broadwell.
Nevertheless, the “protege” and her teacher appear to have dropped their standards when it came to each other. Though it is easy to tell whence Loeb’s confusion comes from, reading his description of Broadwell, who – far from the tabloid-esque accounts of a spoiled “prom queen” – comes off, indeed, as a very unlikely “other woman” for the closest thing America has to a modern day war hero. Though, given these passages, perhaps her different from most tawdry women in these situations was part of the appeal:
What was she like? Professional, relaxed and clearly excited about the material she had for me in her big, comfortable house in a stately North Carolina neighbourhood. She spoke with great affection about her husband, a surgical radiologist whom she’d met in the military, and her two young sons, whom she clearly adores.[…]
I always thought that Broadwell’s motives were pure, and I always wondered why Petraeus was granting her the access that he did. The two must have seen a lot of themselves in each other — they shared the West Point bond, an addiction to physical fitness and running and an uber-optimistic, never-say-die outlook on life.
From there, Loeb does not speculate, but this portrait of the two arguably makes the picture even more tragic. Instead of a case of a craven fame-seeker seducing a great man, or a short-sighted narcissist seeking a mirror for his own self-perceived glory, this story, as Loeb tells it, seems to be a case of two people who should have been good falling far from even their own standards.
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