Why Was General Petraeus So Dumb?

In the movie “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” Steve Martin’s con man character Freddie Benson, brags to a French police officer, trying to show how sharp and cultured he is. “She caught me with another woman, c’mon you’re French, you understand that!” Freddie says. Inspector Andre responds, “To be with another woman, that is French. To be caught, that is American.”

Captain America Is Not a Frenchman

David Petraeus. Four Star Army General. Supreme Commander of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Director of the CIA.



What makes men of power like the fallen General Petraeus and other less influential men believe they are invincible when it comes to the Seventh Commandment? Why don’t they get “Thou shalt not commit adultery?” Simple, says Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“Adulterers are stupid,” he wrote in a 2010 article in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly. He wrote fame brings opportunity and opportunity brings temptation, and temptation leads to the Scarlet Letter. Arrogance is a component, too.

A former colleague of mine writes for the Miami Herald and World Politics Review. She’s also a contributor to CNN.com.

“I believe the common denominator, the proximate cause of the irrational behavior, is arrogance; the belief by some powerful men that they can get away with it,” wrote Frida Ghitis on CNN.com back in April, long before the General Petraeus scandal came to light, but in the wake of the fall of U.S. Senator John Edwards. “That the world is still their unchallenged domain, as it was years ago, when few people knew about a president bringing women to the White House to have sex, as John F. Kennedy did, or pressuring his secretary to yield to sexual advances, as was common. It is willful ignorance that the world has changed. Men whose lives are filled with gifts and opportunity, men who have worked hard to achieve, risk it all and sometimes lose it all,” Ghitis wrote.


General Petraeus, 60, resigned last week after acknowledging he had an affair with a woman later identified as his biographer, Paula Broadwell, 40, a fellow West Point graduate who spent months studying the general’s leadership of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Wait a minute! Did you say a FELLOW West Point graduate? A product of the elite United States Military Academy? What was SHE thinking, you should also ask. The actual affair began about two months after General Petraeus took over as director of the CIA in September 2011, according to a friend of General Petraeus. “He enjoyed her company,” the friend said, speaking anonymously. “She was an attractive gal and they had things in common.”

The former spokesman for General Petraeus spokesman, Steve Boylan, told CNN the retired general is “devastated by the incident,” and “focused on his family.” “Furious would be an understatement,” to describe Petraeus’ wife, he told CNN. “He’s taking this hard,” Boylan told CNN. “He is aware of the impact this has had on his family, and he knows what a wonderful family he has. On a personal level, he sees this as a failure, and this is a man who has never failed at anything.”

Welcome to the Club

Petraeus joins a dubious club whose membership spans across politics, entertainment and international halls of power. Move over, Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Clinton, Tiger, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Spitzer and JFK. There’s a new four-star cheater in the house.



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