Atkinson was impressed by General Petraeus. He saw him as highly intelligent (he has a Ph. D. in International Relations from Princeton University), analytical, articulate, forthright, honest, honorable and a consummate military leader. His opinion was shared by many. Petraeus was widely respected. As the commander of the 101st Petraeus was in charge of an area in northern Iraq following the invasion, and many Iraqis liked him so much they called him “King David.” He was to go on to successful tours as the commander of all forces in Iraq, commander of CentCom, finally commander of all forces in Afghanistan before resigning his commission and becoming Director of the CIA. All I have read about Petraeus led me to be greatly impressed with him and glad to see him advancing as he served our country. Then came his resignation and confession of an extra-marital affair.
I do not know why Petraeus compromised, but there are some factors that may have contributed. One, obviously, is the general decay of our entire society. If everything is relative, if there are no absolute moral wrongs or rights, then, says our culture, there’s nothing wrong with two consenting adults doing what the General and the infamous Ms. Broadwell did, right? Ask Mrs. Petraeus how she feels about that. Ask any thinking American who knows it’s a disaster to entrust leadership of the CIA to a man who has proven himself to be deceitful, dishonest and unfaithful.
Many men live in that same moral mess of our relativistic society without violating their convictions, so we must look for other factors. I don’t know about the state of the marriage relationship between Petraeus and his wife, but my suspicion is that his long absences as he served overseas led to deterioration of that relationship. Perhaps that was a contributing factor. Another one likely was the success and power of General Petraeus. A study done by Dutch researchers was published last summer in the journalPsychological Science. The study of 1500 professionals established that the more power a person had in his or her position the more prone they were to have an illicit sexual affair (yes, the results were about the same for men and women!). Submit as corroborating evidence Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Newt Gingrich, and the list goes on. Why this is so was not established. Perhaps it is because power goes to one’s head. People in power are used to getting their way and can easily fall into the trap of thinking they should have whatever they desire.
Whatever the case, there are some cautions we can take from this latest sad incident. One is that it is essential that all of us who are married pay careful attention to our relationships with our spouses. They need to be protected and nourished to keep them strong, for that is best defense against compromise. Then those who have some power need to guard against the fatal trap of letting that power go to one’s head. They need to stay open to the Spirit of God and the Word of God as they call us back to humility and faithfulness. Finally, we in the church must be aware that power corrupts. The kind of failure we have seen in government has also occurred in the church and for the same reason. What we must always look for in leaders is true humility, openness and faithfulness. The greatest test of a person’s suitability for leadership in the church is faithfulness and leadership in marriage and the home.