Surprising reaction to L'affaire Petraeus

People magazine has named its "Sexiest Man Alive," and the nation was surprised to learn he was not a general.

The winner was actor Channing Tatum, who may be a movie star but doesn't have any stars on his chest. He is good looking enough, but no so much that you'd throw your reputation, your career, your marriage or your entire personal life in an oil drum and light a match to it.


That's what's going on in L'affaire Petraeus, where every day a new character is added to the cast of "Real Housewives of CENTCOM," and we watch as they have their clothing choices, their credit card bills, their percent of body fat, their bare chests (cue the FBI guy in Tampa) and their emails exposed for public ridicule.

Marine Gen. John Allen, the Afghan commander who as commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy was known to pepper subordinates with emails before dawn and into the night, is said to have sent between 20,000 and 30,000 to Jill Kelley, the Tampa doctor's wife who fancied herself the unofficial social ambassador the U.S. Central Command headquartered there — and through which both generals passed on their way up the ladder.


Really? Twenty or thirty thousand? How is that even possible? It appears the astounding volume, not the content, is what is being judged as inappropriate.

Like sand through the hourglass, as they used to say in soap operas, the revelations continue to flow. And even those, like me, who felt General Petraeus should not have been scrapped because of a personal indiscretion, are becoming jaded. One man's weakness has grown to claim others, until we are the laughingstock of the world. Especially the French.

Let me pause to share some of the reaction that I've received to a column earlier this week in which I made what I thought was a pragmatic argument: If we keep sending cheaters to the showers, we'll hardly have anybody left on the bench. We have to stop reacting to each bimbo eruption like it was happening to our best friend.

I was surprised that more of my women readers did not side with Holly Petraeus against her philandering husband. And the men, with almost no exceptions, thought General Petraeus, in resigning, did not only the honorable thing but the necessary one.

(Note to husbands: This is an unscientific survey of the reaction of women to infidelity. Do not assume that this would apply to you.)

"No one remembers Eisenhower, Supreme Commander in World War II, who had a mistress," wrote Beverly, "or FDR as president who had a woman on the side. It goes all the way back to our beloved Thomas Jefferson. The problem is that they didn't have media like this."

"Personally, I don't think he should have resigned, since a former president stayed in office," wrote Lynn, referring to President Bill Clinton's admission of an affair. "But Mrs. Petraeus' decision to stay in the marriage is hers."

My women readers can be very practical: "Just because the general didn't keep it in his pants, doesn't mean he can't do his job," wrote Margaret. "It's a great loss to our country and especially the leadership we need."


But not all of my female readers felt sympathy for the general. "His decisions showed poor judgment, poor understanding of even basic cyber-security mixed with some high quality stupid," wrote Jill. "He had to step down."

The men responding to my column were almost universally unforgiving, including a man of the church who quoted the Bible and historian Alexis de Tocqueville: "America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America ceases to be great."

One male reader did, however, offer what he said should have been President Clinton's and General Petraeus' response to the scrutiny and judgment: "With all due respect," wrote Tim, "that has nothing to do with my oath of office, and it's none of your business."

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @Susan Reimer on