Tag Archives: David Petraeus

The Psychology of the Petraeus Affair

I’ve had this link on my list of things to write about for a few days and even though it’s not the most compelling thing to write about right now, I wanted to make sure I wrote about it before it got to be too far away from the incident. The link is a panel discussing the motives behind the Petraeus affair.

The only thing I’ve written so far is my bafflement with Petraeus’ forced resignation “because of possible blackmail.” When I heard about this discussion, I thought I should also add something to the discussion. Some of the reasons that were discussed in the video/article:

  • Invincibility
  • Self-sabotage
  • “God made us this way”
  • “Men are simply no good”
  • Opportunity
  • Risk-seeking behavior (paired with the first one, invincibility)

While those are all plausible explanations, some carry more weight than others. Better yet, I think that there is an important one missing from this list: drive.

As the panelists tell us, this is not the first time that we’ve seen high-profile people and infidelity. In fact, this isn’t even something that’s limited to politicians — athletes do, too. Both Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods come to mind as two very high-profile athletes who’ve publicly admitted to infidelity. (I say publicly admitted because who knows how many other accounts of infidelity there have been that the public has not been privy to.) In researching for this article, I came across a good summary of the literature on infidelity in a post about Tiger Woods:

The precursors to cheat could be summarized as:

  • Significant, ongoing, unresolved problems in the primary, long-term relationship or marriage
  • A significant difference in sex drive between the two partners
  • The older the primary relationship
  • A greater difference in personality than perhaps the partners realize
  • And to a far lesser extent, perhaps some theoretical, evolutionary remnants that may have reinforced multiple partners over monogamy (although this is just a hypothetical argument that would be difficult to disprove)

While these are some helpful (in understanding) precursors to cheating, there’s still one more I want to discuss — personality. Yes, personality is named in this list, but I don’t think that it adequately gets to the point I’d like to make.

File:Triangular Theory of Love.svg

Think about the kind of personality required to make it to the levels that Petraeus, Woods, and Bryant have. It takes quite a bit of discipline, dedication, and perseverance. These men didn’t just wake up one day at the pinnacle of their professions. They worked hard for it. While, of course, talent plays a big role in being able to make it to the upper-echelon, drive also plays a big part, too. It is this drive that I think plays a large part in infidelity. It’s almost as if we could theorize that there’s a triangle.

In fact, it reminds me of Sternberg’s triangular theory of love (pictured above-left). I would argue that drive is one of the vertices of a triangle, invincibility is another, and opportunity is the third. Without these three things present, one won’t necessarily cheat. Similarly, with these three vertices present, one won’t necessarily cheat. Though, when these three vertices are present, I would bet that the incidence of cheating is elevated.

How Can You Be Blackmailed with Public Information: the CIA, Petraeus, and Paula Broadwell

By now, you’ve no doubt read about Gen. Petraeusresignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). And, you’ve no doubt read about how this resignation came to be. I’m not inciting conspiracy, but something about this situation doesn’t feel right to me — particularly — the idea that Petraeus could be blackmailed.

The argument goes that it was important for Petraeus to resign because the information (affair) could be used to blackmail him. Okay, I hear that, but — the information is now public. Why does he have to resign? Why couldn’t the information have been made public and then Petraeus could have gone on as the Director of the CIA? Of course, this might not have been the most pleasant news conference or press release, but it would have allowed someone who is widely considered one of the smartest minds in Washington to continue in an integral position for the administration of the US.

I want to say that I’m not endorsing Petraeus’ actions (nor) am I endorsing extra-marital affairs. Though, it is worth noting that public officials having affairs (and resigning) is not new. One would think that they may learn from other’s past transgressions. Of course, expecting them to learn from other’s past transgressions is a bit unreasonable.

Circling back to my main point: why would someone have to resign if the information is public? In this particular instance, that information had to do with an extra-marital affair. Due to the culture of the US, this kind of transgression is just about unforgivable and as a result, requires that the leader resign. However, sex (and affairs) are seen much differently in other countries. That’s not to say that other countries would endorse extra-marital affairs, but it’s worth noting that had this happened in another country, the leader’s resignation would not even have come up in conversation.

[UPDATE: I wrote this post on Saturday afternoon, so there’s been some time for the story to develop and for others to opine. Here’s the closing paragraph from an article in The New Yorker posted on Sunday:

A final question, at least from my standpoint, is whether Petraeus had to resign at all. It appears that Clapper, who like Petraeus is a military man, saw it as a no-brainer. Within the military, there are rules about adultery. But within civilian life, should there be? The line of the day on the morning talk shows in Washington seemed to be that Petraeus did the “honorable” thing, or “he had to resign.” The old saw that, if he wasn’t squeaky clean, he could be subject to blackmail by his enemies, thus endangering national security, was mentioned again and again. To me, the whole Victorian shame game seems seriously outdated. Something like half the marriages in the country now end in divorce, and you can bet a great many of those involved extra-marital affairs. Is it desirable to bar such a large number of public servants from top jobs? It certainly seems fair to question Petraeus’s judgement, ethics, and moral fibre in this matter. But if infidelity wasn’t treated as career-threatening, its value to black-mailers would be much reduced (the fear of a spouse is another matter). In this instance, evidently, there were no crimes. So why again did this blow up as it has? Fans of thrillers, like me, are waiting for more answers.