GENERAL PETRAEUS LOSES HIS LUSTER

21 November 2012


I OFTEN wonder why prominent, accomplished, publicly revered men risk their reputations by getting involved in sex scandals. Like France's Dominic Strauss-Kahn and his predatory attack on a hotel maid. Or Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and his penchant for prostitutes. And now its America's own favorite Four-Star General David Petraeus, the "scholar soldier" famed for his intellectual accomplishments and studious demeanor, who became director of the CIA after leading American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The FBI came across evidence of his extra-marital affair accidentally, while investigating another security leak. Faced with the evidence, Petraeus promptly submitted his resignation to the President.

What a pity. What a waste. But why do such respected leaders self-destruct? My hunch is that their position of power gives them the illusion that they can get away with such behavior. In short, they do it because they think they can.

Which sounds so sophomoric. This is prep school behavior, totally inappropriate for middle-aged leaders of world economies, and of the American military.

Today's women leaders appear to be more careful of their personal reputations. There hasn't been any scandal about Germany's Angela Merkel or Brazil's Dilma Rouseff. Or America's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. These women are clearly more interested in protecting their personal reputation than the men are.

Sexists tend to blame men's risky behavior on hormones. Men by nature they say, are not monogamists, although many women are.

When they are in public life, women tend to remain single or have a solid, long-time marriage. From personal experience as a professional writer, I found it enormously helpful to have a husband who was supportive and proud of my work and public reputation.

But apparently, some of our most accomplished male leaders don't care enough about their reputations to protect them.