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Week In News: Petraeus' Post-Election Shocker

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

There are many questions being asked today about how former CIA director General David Petraeus fell from grace so precipitously. By now, you may be familiar with the outlines. Petraeus announced his resignation last night after admitting to an extramarital affair. Let's bring in James Fallows from The Atlantic now for more.

And, Jim, this was a huge surprise for anyone who either knew anything about David Petraeus or actually knew him personally.

JAMES FALLOWS: I think so, and I don't pretend to be one of his confidants over the years, although I've met him a number of times. And if you look at the whole sweep of human history, you have to say that, you know, sexual misadventure is part of the human drama, and there are public figures for whom this would be expected rather than a big surprise when it occurred.

For example, it was disappointing and horrifying to many people that Bill Clinton had the problems he did, but few people were genuinely shocked. When it came to David Petraeus, I think this really is shocking because the essence of his public identity had been, number one, that he was more disciplined than anybody else in the military or in public life and smarter, not just sort of book learning smart and having a Ph.D. from Princeton, but trying to have the long strategic view.

And so to have an episode that is so, number one, undisciplined and, number two, foolish is the last thing anybody would have expected to be the end of David Petraeus' public career.

RAZ: This is a man who was talked about as the greatest officer of his generation.

FALLOWS: Indeed. And I think one reason why this news has such implication for the military is that the movements he's been associated with over the last decade or two, as you have covered yourself, it's not simply the doctrine of counterinsurgency, but sort of the person of General Petraeus - his way of being involved with the populace, his way of dealing with the public and with the press, his way of trying to set an example from the top and from the front for his troops. And again, that's why this is so, so odd.

RAZ: He was like a Maxwell Taylor figure.

FALLOWS: Yes. And for younger members of our listenership, back in the Kennedy administration, Maxwell Taylor was the example of a kind of scholar-soldier, even in the old Roman tradition. And that's something that, you know, military officials, when they go to West Point or Annapolis, they study the classics and the roles of, you know, Marcus Aurelius and how generals should also be scholars and statesmen. And that is something that I think David Petraeus was trying to exemplify until this.

RAZ: OK. He was stupid, Jim. But why step down? I mean, even Senator Feinstein - Dianne Feinstein from California - said she wished he wouldn't.

FALLOWS: I think she wished he wouldn't. Probably he wished he didn't have to. Probably President Obama also wished he didn't have to. But in this job, I think there was no alternative. If David Petraeus had still been in uniform - as you know, the uniform code of military justice defines certain kinds of adultery as an actual crime, that justify court-martial. For somebody who is the director of central intelligence, what the president relies on this person for, what the nation relies on him or her for, what the entire intelligence corps relies on this person for is judgment and discretion.

And we have a case where his judgment seemed to be grievously flawed and where his discretion, if you were having sort of a email sloppiness, again, I think you cannot remain the spymaster of the world having this kind of incident.

RAZ: That's James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic and a regular on this program. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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