November 18, 2012

Sex and the Modern Soldier

The scandal unfolding at the top of America's most trusted institution sparks suspicion of problems beyond overactive libido.

By ROSA BROOKS Foreign Policy

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Paula Broadwell and Gen. David Petraeus.

Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

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Gen. John Allen and Jill Kelley.

Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

No one bats an eye when the (male) boss goes out running or drinking with his (male) subordinates, but post-Petraeus, how many male senior officers will do the same with female subordinates?

Not a lot -- and though such risk-aversion may reduce any appearance of impropriety, it will also reduce the odds that women will get the crucial mentoring that is provided so freely to their male colleagues.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? AND WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

Most soldiers I know do their best to live up to the Army values: "loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage."

Every service has its own creed, but the core values of each service are basically the same, and every day, most of the roughly 2.5 million men and women in the military try their best to live up to them.

Needless to say, however, these values don't appear to have been particularly exemplified by the alleged recent behavior of Gen. Petraeus and Gen. John Allen. And it's not the marital infidelity -- acknowledged or alleged -- that bothers me. I'm willing to write that off to human frailty.

Did Allen exchange risque emails with Jill Kelley? Maybe -- but I don't really care.

As for Petraeus, when a lonely, late-middle-aged married man with a stressful job falls into bed (or under the desk) with an attractive and adoring younger woman, it's not excusable, perhaps, but it's certainly understandable -- and really none of the country's business.

It's the emerging story of the all-too cozy relationship between Tampa's nouveau riche and the top brass at Centcom -- U.S. Central Command -- that makes me feel less charitable.

Why were Petraeus and Allen spending all their free time at lavish parties hosted by a rich Tampa socialite? Who told Kelley it was fine to declare herself the "social liaison" to Centcom?

Why didn't the fact that Kelley and her family were embroiled in multiple lawsuits alleging fraud and unpaid debt set off alarm bells for anyone at Centcom? Who anointed the 37-year-old Kelley as a Centcom "honorary ambassador," fostering relations between top Centcom officials and "Middle Eastern government officials"?

And, of course, what induced two of America's highest-ranking generals to wade into a vicious custody case involving the child of Kelley's twin sister, Natalie Khawam, sending character testimonials on Khawam's behalf to a judge who had declared Khawam to be a "psychologically unstable" manufacturer of "sensational accusations so numerous, so extraordinary, and so distorted that they defy any common sense view of reality"?

Talk about conduct "of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces."

Needless to say, no one's sure yet what's true and what isn't, and what more lies hidden under various carpets and rocks. But enough has already emerged to raise serious questions about the ethics and judgment of several top officials.

Was there actual corruption, nepotism, and impropriety? Unclear -- but there was unquestionably an appearance of impropriety, and we should expect better of America's most decorated military officers.

Service members sure expect better of them.

I've been asking around among military friends, and all I hear is shock, disgust, and a sense of betrayal.

"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," one officer told me. "We're being had. These guys have chests full of medals, and they preach to us about military values. But look at this -- what the are they doing?"

WHAT'S AT STAKE: MILITARY'S POSITION ATOP PEDESTAL

Whatever the reaction within the military community, will these revelations taint the military's public image?

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