Sex, Lies, Leadership, and eMail

One of the things I remember about Afghanistan is the entourages that followed important people and “leaders” around. I even think I saw the nexus of the current Petraeus debacle; however, I can’t be sure. What I remember clearly- in the instance of more than one star (a general) as well as a small flock of birds (colonels)- was the presence of at least one attractive woman. Sometimes she was a civilian. Sometimes she was in uniform.

I also remember being told that when people downrange see a man and a woman together for more than five minutes, that couple is assumed to be enjoying more than conversation. Before we continue, if you don’t already know this, it’s time that you did: At least on the bigger bases, there is ample time and opportunity for people to enjoy more than conversation. I’m not saying that it’s one big fun house (especially after a 14 hour day), but humans will be humans.

Here’s one more memory that may be helpful to us all as we careen down this slippery slope. Male officers almost always managed- within minutes of making my acquaintance- to do two things. First, they made sure that I knew they were married, happily or otherwise. Then, they asked about my marital status. (I did not wear my rings because I had no wish to lose them. Apparently this was questionable in the eyes of some The decision of some females to wear “fake” rings was equally questionable to them). Anyway, asking my marital status was a just prelude to asking what my husband thought about my deployment.

Yes. They really asked me that. But wait! There’s more! Their reactions to my reply ranged from shock that I was married and that my husband would support such a thing (again, really!) to understanding, and even one apology. However, when I turned the tables and asked how their wives felt about them being deployed, to a man, they all were taken aback. After all, military wives, especially those of officers, are expected to cope with the absence of their spouse. Many of the male officers with whom I came into contact reeked of fear of being caught in a compromising position, so to speak.

This brings us to David Petraeus et al. People were so frustrated with his predecessor, that relief was the predominant feeling in my area when he took over. The fact that COIN’s hearts and minds strategy just wasn’t working was lost on more than one leader then, as now.

When a leader makes rules, the legitimate expectation is that no exceptions will be made when it comes to accountability. Those of us who are more cynical still dare to hope sometimes that if we must force people to be “good” then the consequences of being “bad” will be applied fairly, if not equally. I was just one of a few favored targets of a certain boss bird who really hated the fact that I was his peer and behaved as such, in spite of the fact that he treated me and anyone else who didn’t stroke his feathers, with sarcasm and disrespect. Then he would take me shopping to buy things for his wife.

Once again, our current leaders have failed us. Or have they?

If a person is willing to accept the role of leadership, does that person automatically become subject to a different morality too? Was Petraeus selected to lead in Afghanistan because he didn’t give embarrassing interviews or because he had an idea that worked once before? Or both? Put another way, what, if any, connection is there between an extra-marital affair and the ability to do one’s job? If Petraeus cheated on his wife, would he cheat on his country (as one of my friends put it)? Have I been hurt by his behavior? Have you? Has the world at large?

Quite frankly, I don’t really care about the details of this sordid, (inter?)national drama. I have seen some really “good” people do some really “awful” things and continue to torment themselves long after the public airing of the laundry was over. I also know that most of us have at least one soiled hanky tucked away somewhere that we just can’t get rid of. Our muddled morals and ethics have somehow let us think that it’s OK for us to throw rocks at the glass houses in which we ensconce our leaders.

We are missing the point in this, I think. The more we¬† learn about our most recently toppled leader, the more evidence I see proving that people with power do stupid things. Leaders are no exception because they have both power and influence. The surprise is that we continue to be shocked by their humanity. Do we really want/need leaders who are “better” than we are? In every way? I do not believe that we can or should have that expectation. I don’t care how far Petraeus or his PT partner could run, or how fast. I do care about his effectiveness as a leader. If, in that assessment, he is found to be lacking because of the incredibly stupid decisions he made in his personal life, then we all deserve to know. Otherwise, shred the evidence. Burn that hanky. Just don’t hit send!