Petraeus: A Failure of Moral Leadership

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November 21, 2012|10:06 am

The resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus over an extramarital affair has all the trappings of a daytime soap opera. And to add insult to injury, the legacy of a four-star Army general is permanently damaged, and some are questioning the moral integrity of our military. However, the media frenzy surrounding Petraeus' sexual betrayal indicates that we hold America's military members to a higher standard.

Expectations that come along with entering the armed forces include self-discipline, loyalty, good order, and a strong sense of professional duty. By all accounts, General Petraeus had more will power, discipline, and professional duty than almost any man alive. Yet, he fell prey to sexual betrayal and, as a result, placed his marriage, career, and reputation in jeopardy.

It's widely said that American families trust only their pastors and their military – and for good reason. We look to our military for leadership. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first election in recent years where none of the candidates for the presidency or the vice-presidency had served in our military. Herein lays a grave disadvantage. Understanding the role of commander in chief and successfully executing that vital role requires a leadership skill set that many men today are only exposed to through military training. Whether making a decision that impacts the fate of the nation, a brigade, or a lone officer, service members are taught to always place the welfare of others before themselves. They learn to lead from in front; they do not just order men into hard or dangerous situations, but they take the first step in that direction themselves.

In Iraq and in Afghanistan, Petraeus was respected as a great commander, because he always led from the front. And that is why he garnered the trust and loyalty of his troops. They knew he would never abandon or misguide them. It's very discouraging that Petraeus failed to implement those same leadership skills in his personal life.

"David Petraeus didn't betray his country," Judge Andrew Napolitano told the Daily Caller. "He betrayed his wife. Big deal." Oh, but it is a big deal, as most military families would understand.

As the wife of a Military Police officer for 23 years, I know that the private and personal aspects of military life are one and the same. My husband may have worn the uniform and held the rank, but I held down the home front while he served both abroad and in the states. My husband made sacrifices to serve his country; our daughters made sacrifices of birthdays and holidays without their dad. They grew up knowing that anything unseemly they did had the potential to end their dad's career. They knew that the friends they made today might be gone to a new duty assignment tomorrow, or they might be the ones moving on to a new school and the job of making new friends. Moving was a way of life. By the time we built our retirement home, we were three months shy of our 30th wedding anniversary, and we had lived in over 25 homes. Make no mistake; everyone in a military family makes a sacrifice.

Holly Petraeus served the military for 37 years, as she walked beside her husband and supported him through graduate school, the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and promotion as Director of the CIA. Holly was Petraeus' closest ally, and he betrayed her. If he can betray her, then we have no idea who or what else he could betray.

Despite his rank, Petraeus does not deserve a free pass. Petraeus failed to meet moral standards on the home front and must take responsibility for his actions. But it's important to note that his decision and actions do not reflect on our entire military. We cannot paint our military with a broad brush. Sadly, Petraeus' sex scandal has stirred many mocking tweets and commentary labeling immorality as a military status quo. But for every Petraeus, there are many staff officers, NCOs, and enlisted men and women who serve with integrity, honor, and faithfulness to their families.

Military families want to believe that Petraeus' army career was not a lie. We pray that behind his recently infidelity, a track record does not exist during his years in the U.S. Army. So badly we want to learn that Petraeus' bureaucratic power in the CIA begot corruption. Nonetheless, it is very discouraging that there is a failure of moral leadership at America's highest levels.

Concerned Women for America (CWA) said in the Clinton years that "character counts" in national leadership, and we still hold that to be true. In the American democratic system, the government is designed to reflect the governed. The Petraeus scandal does not reflect our entire military, but instead is a reflection of a cultural battle in which we are engaged with the painful ramifications of human beings' broken carnal nature.

Always remember, Gen. Petraeus was not an "Army of one." His 11th-hour moral failure may have killed his career, but it cannot — and will never — kill the ideals of integrity, honor, and faithfulness. These three are safeguarded across the globe every day and night by thousands upon thousands of military men and women of lesser names, but greater character.

They fight for freedom; they fight for their families. And we will continue to love, trust, and support them.

Kenda Bartlett serves as Executive Director of Concerned Women for America, the nation's largest public policy women's organization and is a proud Army wife with 23 years of service standing beside her military man.

Penny Young Nance is the president of Concerned Women for America. Nance most recently served as President of Nance and Associates and as Special Advisor for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), where she advised the Chairman and the Commissioners on media and social issues. Before joining the FCC, Nance was founder and President of the Kids First Coalition, a non-profit organization focused on educating Capitol Hill, the media, and the public on a variety of issues related to children.
 

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