Skip to comments.Petraeusís Bathsheba Syndrome - Why did a man we so respected succumb to temptation?
Posted on 11/14/2012 1:49:25 PM PST by neverdem
General David Petraeus is arguably the most consequential and renowned American military leader since World War II. His resignation because of an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has shocked Americans. L’affaire Petraeus has two parts that must be separated: his sexual relationship with Broadwell itself, and the link between the timing of the announcement of his resignation and the Benghazi attacks on September 11.
Here I will focus on the former. What led a successful general at the height of his power and influence to have an affair that undid all he had accomplished?
In 1993, Dean Ludwig and Clinton Longnecker co-authored an article for The Journal of Business Ethics titled “The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders.”(PDF) The name of their piece comes, of course, from the biblical story of King David and Bathsheba, recounted in the Second Book of Samuel. David seduces Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and impregnates her. He later orders that Uriah be placed in the front ranks of the fighting, where Uriah is killed. Upon word of his death, David marries Bathsheba. God is displeased and sends the prophet Nathan to rebuke the king, who repents but is nonetheless punished by the death of his and Bathsheba’s child, and by the later civil war arising from the insurrection Absalom (David’s beloved third son) leads against Solomon (the second son of David and Bathsheba).
Ludwig and Longnecker, as well as others writing subsequently, have argued that the psychological impact of gaining power, despite many positive effects, also may unleash a dark side: the belief that one is too big to fail, that the normal rules do not apply. Thus even a leader of high moral character may succumb to the temptations that accompany the acquisition of power. The findings of Ludwig and Longnecker regarding the moral corruption of the powerful go a long way toward explaining Petraeus’s behavior.
For one, they argue that moral principles are more often abandoned in the wake of success than as a result of competitive pressure. Success tends to inflate a leader’s belief that he has a special personal ability to manipulate or control outcomes, an issue that particularly seems to have applied to Petraeus.
The general clearly seemed to believe that he could control the consequences of his sexual liaison with Broadwell, his biographer. I reviewed her book All In: The Education of General David Petraeus for Foreign Affairs, and wrote that the book portrayed Petraeus as the modern exemplar of the soldier-scholar-statesman. “The Petraeus that emerges from Broadwell’s book,” I wrote, “is educated, committed, competitive, driven, and inspiring.” I noted Broadwell’s “extensive access to the general and his subordinates over a prolonged period” but concluded that All In had avoided the “pitfall of hagiography.” In retrospect, I was wrong.
Not all Davids who fall prey to the Bathsheba syndrome have an actual Bathsheba, but Petraeus did. Although I absolved her of hagiography, it seemed clear that Broadwell, a West Point graduate and Army reserve officer with an M.A. from the University of Denver and an M.P.A. from Harvard, was in awe of Petraeus. Twenty years younger than the general, Broadwell is a very attractive married mother of two young children, but her appeal to Petraeus no doubt went beyond mere sex.
As we are now discovering, many of Petraeus’s closest advisers were very concerned about the “extensive access” that Broadwell had to the general. Many of those individuals may well bear some of the responsibility for the situation that has ensued. The Bathsheba syndrome is usually enabled by a phalanx of loyalists and operatives willing to defend the leader at any cost. The leader thus may come to believe that he is somehow invulnerable, allowing his passions and sensual desires to tyrannize over his reason and good judgment.
This was certainly the case with, say, Bill Clinton. Although General Petraeus has always seemed to possess a moral fiber absent in the case of the former president, he too may have felt that he would be protected by his loyal subordinates. That is the fate of a man who succumbs to the Bathsheba syndrome.
— Mackubin Thomas Owens is a professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the editor of Orbis. He is a Marine infantry veteran of Vietnam.
Mutual attraction on many levels.
why? People like sex.
Gawd, what a waste of cyber paper.
"A stiff dick has no conscience"
Huh? Did you see the rack on his mistress?
It apparently took years of contact until the fire was finally lit.
“Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Paula,I dropped my pen under the desk!
That is why I have an OPEN DOOR policy in my workplace
I would NEVER allow my door to be closed when I am alone with another female
(most of the time it is never closed anyway- but I have had to open in more than once when someone came in with other than business on their mind)
She is fit, and fills out her outfits very nicely. I expect she is smart and confident too
She likely gives as good as she gets.
Why settle for a 2 or 3 star general?
Nope. Absalom rebelled against David. Solomon is not mentioned in connection with him.
Adonijah, another son of David, attempted a couple of coups against Solomon, but they did not get to the level of civil war. Solomon executed him after the second attempt.
I think the ancient Romans had the best idea. During the triumphant parade through the City a slave stood behind the conquering general and reminded him that “Cesar, this too will pass.”
Unfortunately there is no one in our current defense establishment that is tasked to do that.
Or to put it another way, how did a guy who is constantly sold to us as being one of the smartest people on the planet not realize that as CIA Director he was Target #1 for honey pot ops?
I watched a CSPAN talk and she said she chased him ... not in those words ... but that's what she did.
He was set up.
My explanation is that Petraeus was/is a geeky kind of guy, nice, smart, accomplished, but never what we would call, a ladies’ man. It didn’t bother him most of his life. He was busy doing what he did best and that didn’t involve being a ladies’ man.
Then came Afghanistan and Broadwell at the same time. Unhappy, and probably suffering some self doubt for the first time in his long career, Broadwell made him feel younger and attractive and she offered companionship and probably an ear for his doubts and concerns. She probably offered something his wife didn’t a different kind of companionship on a more professional level, feeding his ego and assuaging his doubts. Petraeus probably never intended to hurt his wife. It just happened.
I was thinking more like Delilah, not Bathsheba.
Well I don’t think she was as good looking at Bathsheba or at least Alice Krige playing Bathsheba in KING DAVID. And David should have overcome that come on.
Some men can say no to the lesser temptations and a few men can still say no to the stronger temptations. But many don’t even try to withstand even the barely tempting temptations.
Why? Because he wanted to.
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