Eileen McNamara: If Paula Broadwell is a punch line, the tawdry joke is of her own making. Women should be as furious at her careless folly as they are at Petraeus’ preening arrogance. Photos: Left, U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Monday July 4, 2011. (AP Photo/ U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP) Right, Paula Broadwell visible through the window of her brother's house in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (Cliff Owen/AP)

This is what 40 years of progress for women has wrought?

A stellar graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who prefers to flex her shapely biceps, not her intellectual muscle, on a national book tour?

A Harvard Kennedy School graduate who uses her public policy education to produce a fawning hagiography, not a critical analysis, of the career of the narcissistic four-star general at the helm of America’s tragic misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan?

A wife and mother in an all-too-rare egalitarian marriage who goes weak in the knees, to say nothing of soft in the head, for her aging mentor, a darling of the Federal City’s media and social elite?

FILE – This July 13, 2011photo shows Gen. David Petraeus, left, shaking hands with Paula Broadwell, co-author of his biography “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.” (ISAF/AP, file)

Is Paula Broadwell what gender equality is supposed to look like in 2012? Kim Kardashian with an advanced degree?

Predictably, the news coverage of the unfolding scandal surrounding the affair between 60-year-old CIA director David H. Petraeus and his 40-year-old biographer is focused on the Great Man.

How could a person of his apparently universally-acknowledged genius have risked so much for so fleeting a reward? How will the nation’s intelligence community survive without his purportedly peerless leadership?

Broadwell, on the other hand, is cast as an ancillary character straight out of Greek mythology, the wily temptress who ensnared the hapless warrior with her buff body and six-minute miles.

She “flitted across war zones in his shadow,” writes The New Yorker. She took “full advantage of her special access” and the honorable soldier — distracted by the burdens of war — “let his guard down,” concludes The Washington Post.

Who edits this stuff?

Is Paula Broadwell what gender equality is supposed to look like in 2012? Kim Kardashian with an advanced degree?

But, frankly, if Broadwell is a punch line, the tawdry joke is of her own making. Women should be as furious at her careless folly as they are at Petraeus’ preening arrogance.

She is not Monica Lewinsky or Mimi Alford, college-aged White House interns, exploited and discarded by two self-indulgent presidents for their own sexual pleasure. While hardly Petraeus’ equal, Broadwell is an adult, certainly more professional colleague than vulnerable subordinate.

Didn’t she notice that in this culture is always the woman who pays the price in these situations? While the commentators are still obsessing about her well-toned arms, they are already looking out for Petraeus’ future, suggesting he would be the perfect candidate for the presidency of Princeton. Surely, she knows Vassar will not be calling.

She excelled at West Point. She shined at Harvard. Every opportunity she squandered came on the backs of previous generations of women who fought for her chance to compete at the highest level, to serve in the company of her male peers and, in doing so, explode the lingering presumption that military men and women can not work alongside one another professionally.

The 119 women in the first class of female cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point deserved better from Broadwell, especially the 62 who endured a steady diet of abuse and resentment those long four years to graduate with their second lieutenant bars in 1980, and the 225 who graduated last year, only 17 percent of the class but the largest proportion of women in history.

The more than 225,000 women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, many as attachments to infantry foot patrols on the front lines deserved better, especially the more than 140 women who have died there at a time when the military is still weighing the right of women to serve in direct combat roles, a crucial, too-long-denied step toward career advancement.

Instead, this self-promoting soldier will be remembered for her harassing emails to a perceived romantic competitor that reportedly sparked this ever-widening scandal, a melodrama that has all the echoes — but for the adult diapers — of the lovesick astronaut who drove from Houston to Orlando to confront her own sexual rival in an airport parking lot.

The Navy drummed out the astronaut. The Army is unlikely to be more sympathetic to the reservist. Neither should we.


  • LISTEN: Eileen McNamara discusses this piece on Radio Boston

Tags: Gender, Security

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  • Gmatt

    Ms. McNamara makes some good points, but overlooks a key element. These two “kids” fell in love or lust or whatever you want to call it, and love makes people do crazy, stupid things….this saga is straight out of Shakespeare…..power, sex, greed…..America lives for this crap……we put the general on a pedestal, call him a hero, and then knock him down for “bad judgement”. How bright can he be, if as the head of the CIA, he can’t keep an affair a secret?

    • ChristianGehman

      Ms. Broadwell never mentioned to him she was emailing Ms. Kelley? Pheromones sometimes make rational behavior less likely?

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  • Kristen Hanssen Goodell

    Give me a break. Smart people do stupid things all the time – remember President Clinton, the brilliant Rhodes Scholar who was barely elected and then impeached because he couldn’t manage to keep his pants on? To insinuate that Broadwell should be held to a higher standard of behavior than the legions of powerful men who make the same mistake is deeply offensive to me as a high-acheiving feminist. For you to view her behavior so differently from Gen. Petraeus’ demonstrates how far we still have to go towards equality.

    • Katie

      Did you read the article? McNamara is not insinuating that Broadwell should be held to a higher standard than the men that do the exact same thing. She admonishes Patraeus and Clinton for abusing their power. She specifically calls out Clinton for taking advantage of someone in a more vulnerable state. Her argument is that Broadwell, a woman of clear intellectual capability, who graduated from West Point and Harvard, should hold herself to a higher standard than to be involved in something so sensational. That someone who succeeded both at Harvard and West Point should not rely on looks and charm to make her way. She’s not giving Patraeus a break by any definition – did you happen to catch that part about how silly it is that we refer to him as such a Great Man? About how backwards it is that people are already planning his next career move? She’s arguing that Broadwell isn’t the Wily Temptress that media is making her out to be, she’s a capable woman who embarrassed herself by using sex to gain power, and embarrassed other women seeking power and professionalism with hard work and determination.

      Also – McNamara is one of the most feminist journalists out there, so the fact that you’re offended by this as a feminist clearly demonstrates that you missed the point. This IS a feminist argument. Re-read, perhaps.

      • ChristianGehman

        As for President Clinton, judging by his capability for administration and his body type, isn’t it more likely that Ms. Lewinsky’s accusation was just bogus,and Old Bill decided it might be better to cop to the charge than to admit the President of the US was actually an impotent eunuch?

      • ChristianGehman

        You are underestimating the synergy of pheromones, possibly because your own receptors are non-functional. People often screw each other just because the attraction is overpowering. Powerful men and beautiful women often get along very well. Puritan moralists would like to proscribe this type of behavior. But it’s worth noting that even the Puritans failed to stamp out adultery. The Muslims may have at least made a dent in the human proclivity for adultery by attaching the death penalty — to offending women.

      • wendycity

        I agree completely with you Katie. I am really mad that while she boasted of our accomplishments all over the media she really was choosing to get ahead on her back. She is a selfish self promoter and seems pretty unhinged to me – the psycho jealously part really does not put her in a good light. Her sins are not worse than David Petraeus – nonetheless, the criticism of her and her motives are deserved.

        Paula Broadwell’s husband and little kids deserve a better wife and mother. Hopefully she is working on that. I have no doubt that David Petraeus will continue to be what he always was. I would bet that this is not his first indiscretion – and surely not his last. I feel sorry for his wife.

  • ChristianGehman

    Who cares, really? … powerful men screwing their female assistants or companions. Nothing new there. No security breach. Ike is rolling in his grave — laughing as hard as it’s possible to laugh: top spy gets bitten by the Security State! What a paltry joke!

    • mayacb

      The sex isn’t the problem, the threatening emails are the problem. If Broadwell had been discrete this would never be a story. The sex is their private business, but when threatening emails are involved, national security is an issue. If she sends threatening emails, who knows what else she would have done.

      • ChristianGehman

        The real problem is not emails, it’s the surveillance/security state we now live in. Ike had a mistress – no one really cared. Ike was so concerned about the emerging preponderance of the military-industrial complex that he mentioned it to Kennedy as they rode toward Kennedy’s inauguration. The development of the surveillance security state was the biggest change Ike’s generation saw. But by now we’ve all grown used to that monster rolling around on our front lawn while we fight yet another probably unwinnable war against the world’s largest theocracies — a whole region that believes neither in civil rights for women nor in Israel’s right to exist. . Broadwell dangled herself; and a fish took the bait. And he’s fried. Mr. Petraeus is toast. He could have been a very viable presidential candidate in 2016 — not that the GOP will be able to win a national election without eliminating the influence that currency-cranks and abortion-nots currently wield over the Grand Old Party If Gore had contested the Florida results, he would have turned out to be the winner in 2000. If you actually believe that emails can “threaten national security,” you might need to stop smoking your own toenails and go back to living on brown rice and lettuce until you can actually focus long enough to read a book. Or two books, maybe. Looks like more than one general has a mistress these days. Well, I never! Glory be! Can you believe it? We live in an exceptionally prurient age, but sex between consenting politicians and their delectable mistresses or other sycophants is no longer their own private business. The FBI and the rest of the wiretapping crowd knew all about the affair — from the beginning, long before Kelley mentioned it in public. I haven’t seen the complete text of Broadwell’s emails yet — but I’d like to see them. She probably knows some very colorful language that she learned from the generals.

  • petergriffith5

    Eileen McNamara hits the nail on the head when she contrasts Paula Broadwell’s behavior with the pioneering women who came before her and the many women who honorably serve in the military today. I think that Broadwell’s story is nothing more than about am attraction that was fueled with blind ambition for a career as a pundit (and according to one of Broadwell’s friends) perhaps a career in public service. The seemingly telling fact about Broadwell is the series of threatening emails to Florida/Military socialite, Jill Kelly where Broadwell is clearly marking Petreous as her own in the same way that a high school queen bee would run her hive.

  • Dallas Alfonso

    Paula Broadwell looks like a nice person, but trouble too. I’m surprised that a man such a Petreaus did not see this coming…I sure hope the sex was very very good because he’s lost a lot, and so has she and the loving people around them.

  • Eli

    Maybe the underlining theme here is that hubris equally affects the judgment for both high-achieving men and women. Men and women have always been held to different standards and had to face different consequences, and I think most would agree that the General will undoubtedly come out of this mess much better than his female co-conspirator.
    It seems that the collateral damage that rightly angers the author, is that now (and again) every beautiful and talented woman around powerful men in Washington DC (and especially in/around the military) will now have to face extra scrutiny and overcome additional obstacles to prove they deserve to be treated as equals.

    • ChristianGehman

      What was Broadwell’s rank? She ever make captain?

  • capemh

    Does anyone wonder about a country that is all “Hail the Conquering Hero” to a General, under whose command hundreds or thousands of people (including children) have been killed, women raped, battlefields scarred for decades with depleted uranium and who used his influence to extend the war in Afghanistan knowing it couldn’t be won in the timeframe he said it would… but let him have a consensual sexual affair and suddenly he’s a either a man using power to satisfy his sexual ego or a doddering fool being taken advantage of by a scheming younger woman.and NOW he’s unfit for public life? And that is the issue coming out of the “scandal?”

    How messed up is that?

    The real scandal here is the way the FBI went after the CIA, the backbiting and in-fighting between the agencies. I’m still trying to figure out how a “harrassing” email came the attention of the FBI to the point that they even discovered Petraeus’ involvement.

    I am just so tired of the media’s obsession and the “tsk-tsking” of the moral scold patrol concerning sex as though it is some great crime. Grow up. Sex is fun. We all should have as much fun in this life as we can.

    I repeat, grow up.

    • ChristianGehman

      I repeat: the problem is not the sex, it’s not the horny General and it’s not the lissome Paula Broadwell — the problem is the National Security / Covert Intelligence regime that make sprivacy as we used to know it a matter for historians to discuss.

  • Lennox

    People have affairs, they have in the past and will in the future. Human beings aren’t perfect, but flawed. Let’s not sensationalize this. Yes, like many others, male and female, she used bad judgement. It’s ugly, it destroys families and in this case it ripples up the military chain of command, but please let’s not demonize her and lets not say “every opportunity she squandered came on the backs of previous generation of woman…””” She hurt herself, not all the woman who were successful before her time. That is just not true. She will pay for this by reading about it everyday, by having her friends, and family know about it, and by living it. One more thing, this won’t be the last affair that will take place in our country either. Let’s put this in perspective.

    • ChristianGehman

      I bet Broadwell makes a million on selling her real, true tell-all story: How I Sucked the Life Out of a Conservative General … who might have been President one day.

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  • John Stengrevics

    Yes Eileen, humans are incredibly flawed creatures. If you expect more from them, you will continue to be disappointed.

  • San

    What percentage of adults who have a primary relationship also have sex outside of that relationship?

    What percentage of reporters who write news stories about people who have sex outside of primary relationships have sex outside of primary relationships?

    What percentage of intelligence officers investigating people who have sex outside of primary relationships have sex outside of primary relationships?

    What percentage of politicians outraged by politicians who have sex outside of primary relationships have sex outside of primary relationships?

    What percentage of religious leaders scandalized by political leaders who have sex outside of primary relationships have sex outside of primary relationships?

  • Mary Mendoza

    Some of the comments here appear to be off topic or to miss the entire point of this article. It does indeed do a huge disservice to any woman, who has ever wanted to or tried to work in the military, and wanted, yearned desperately to be taken seriously on account of what she has done- chiefly her abilities and smarts on the job. This undoes it all. Yet another woman who slept with a guy up the chain of command. On her twitter account, Paula Broadwell calls herself “Women’s Rights Activist”. So much for that!. And finally, there are very large numbers of women who are assaulted on a yearly basis, while in the military, and those stories ahve gotten none of the play this self promoting duo- and that may be the ultimate clue to this story- that they were both shameless self promoters. .

    • Isobel Clinton

      If one woman’s submission to lust and the charisma of power can “undo it all,” the whole struggle of centuries of brave, intelligent women for the right to exist as persons, and citizens–and soldiers if we must–in a world determined to see us as temptresses, fallen women (McNamara’s choice), or what the boys at my college called “dogs,” then I sorrow to think how fragile Ms. Mendoza’s sense is of our achievements. Ms. Mendoza, don’t yearn (that was Ms. Broadwell’s mistake), just do! Paula Broadwell, though apparently a pretty hack biographer, is no worse than any of the gazillion men who do this stuff all the time, and men are gonna be OK: so are we. –That is, if we can buckle down and take seriously the gigantic threat of global warming, which makes war look suicidal, and Paula Broadwell beside the point.

    • ChristianGehman

      Women in the military often screw men in the military. Get used to it!

    • Mbo

      Let me start by saying that I consider myself a full-blown women’s rights activist. But then, women’s rights activists are not all the same.

      I don’t know Broadwell’s particular views, but she may be like many women’s rights activists who believe that female promiscuity and feminism are not mutually exclusive. In the last 10 years or so, I’ve realized that there are those within the women’s rights movement who believe it is a show of women’s emancipation to have a lot of sex (illicit or otherwise), and that to practice restraint or even basic good judgment is seen (by those just described) as a sign of an “inhibited” woman (who is, by their logic, not “emancipated”). I’ll never forget a young woman who tried to convince me that if a woman doesn’t sleep with every man that is available to her, then I she’s clearly “frightened of her own sexual power” (or at least a prude).

  • dld

    Given the amount of press this affair has generated, and the multitude of angles the press has explored in hopes of generating yet another article, I have been stunned that no one raises the points Eileen has.

    I am a well-educated, intelligent woman who has worked successfully in fields traditionally occupied by men. It happens I also was married to a man who led a double life with his young assistant, devastating his wife and his four children in the process. I did not vilify the young assistant: she knew better, but she was also young, naive, and too trusting. And, frankly, I don’t give a damn about Petraus. What makes me nuts is that Broadwell was taken seriously prior to this affair.

    I am irked by her hypocrisy, as she pushed the military to get over themselves and expand the areas in the military where women can serve alongside men–while simultaneously engaging in the very behavior of concern to opponents. When every photograph, regardless of occasion, shows her in an outfit which overtly displays her personal version of cleavage, she reveals an agenda which seems as concerned with being seen as being heard. And while I appreciate that many folks in her position, whether writing a biography or considering the merits of a colleague for a promotion, believe their personal relationship to the subject has no bearing on their objectivity, their readers (or colleagues) are entitled to full disclosure, so that they can make their own informed decisions.

    Paula Broadwell is a poser, and THAT, to bow to the vernacular, pisses me off.

    • ChristianGehman

      Hey, where’s the hypocrisy? Broadwell liked the man, she screwed him while writing a laudatory book about him. Then she tried to defend her turf against Jill Kelley. Broadwell will make a million on her tell all True Story. She won’t even need a ghost writer. And Bang! there goes a conservative Republican candidate down in flames.

  • Jared Purdy

    Great post. I have two exceptions, at least based on what I have read: She did not exactly “shine” at Harvard. According a arcticle that I read on a Boston news/mag web site, she was asked to leave as she was not abe to meet the academic standards, and they were apparently quite critical of her book, which is why it didn’t end up being a Phd. thesis, which is allso why why is now at King’s College London (which, according to the same article, may also be up for question now). And the other has to do with the medias’ fixation on Pretaeus. Well, there is also a considerable amount of “coverage” of Broadwell too, I mena, the number of articles that are churned out daily is quite astounding, and I think there would be even more if she showed some moral fibre or courage and stepped out of her brother’s house to for a press briefing! They’d have a field day! What’s the likelihood of that happening? About zero. Your are right, she is wreckless, and an affront to women’s rights and feminism, and not just because of the affari, but from my perspective, because of her affliations: “model” for KRISS manchine gun manufacturer, endoreser of Pretaeus’ levelling of entire villages in the middle east, flagrantly dishonest as to the authenticity of her “bio”, a neo-con (women’s rights and neo-con?). Where does feminism and women’s rights fit into there exactly? If she a feminist and an advocate of women’s rights, then so is Margaret Thatcher, and for me, that is a real stretch.

    • Mary Mendoza
      • Mary Mendoza

        ANd she apparently didn’t win the top physical fitness prize at West Point either. Another cadet won it.. Oh well.

        • Mbo

          Aside from their affair, it looks like both Petraeus and Broadwell showed some rather sad character flaws in their drive to the top — one of these articles mentions how Petreaus was known as someone who’s overly competitive and has to win every contest no matter how small, and Broadwell has a habit of exaggerating her experience and qualifications. Sounds like they’re made for each other.

          They sound like a couple of souls who are deeply unsatisfied with who they really are. Anyone ever spent any time with people like that? It’s gets pretty tiresome. Take them out of anything close to decision-making roles, and let them keep each other company.

    • Isobel Clinton

      How is Paula Broadwell’s behavior an affront to women’s rights? Will women’s rights be rescinded (tell that to Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan) because of her bad behavior? Will the rights of powerful men be rescinded, while we’re at it?–his booboo was much worse than hers! And if everyone’s rights are rescinded, who’ll run the zoo?

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  • Yobo2

    150 years of women’s struggle for equality and we have… Eileen McNamara? And she’s is a professor at Brandeis? — a sad commentary on women in higher education!

    Yo, Eileen — The whole point of the women’s movement is that people should be judged on their own individual merits and mistakes — not on those of their gender. Why is that so hard to understand? Or maybe we should just dismiss you with this old line: typical woman. If you’re truly worried that the world will be unkind to Broadwell, why are you only making it worse?

    • ChristianGehman

      Broadwell will get rich off this scandal. See her on TV soon!

  • Tommye-Karen Mayer

    I found this Blog essay interesting. Not knowing more than sparse reported details of the matter. Knowing a bit more about Paula Broadwell, whom I’d immediately dismissed as trouble Petreus should have recognized, seems important.

  • Susan York

    The last time I wrote an anonymous note was in high school. That should have been Paula’s last time as well. I wonder about this as well….How does she train for triathalons, study for advanced degrees, follow a general halfway around the world, write his biography, all the while supposedly mothering two young children?
    Motherhood is a choice in today’s world, and she obviously has not committed to that area of her life.

  • Chris

    Spare me. What a bunch of pointless blather. Robert Parry gets to the real story here –

  • ChristianGehman

    Ain’t it funny how so many conservative bible thumpers keep getting dinged for their sex peccadilloes? I guess Petraeus won’t be running for president in 2016 after all.

  • Helen
  • Johnny Soul

    Ridiculously off-base arrticle that presupposes that every individual has a prima facia duty and obligation to fulfill the aspirations and political ideals of a group or class or category that they “belong” to! This is absurd and if taken to the extreme has totalitarian overtones. People don’t think about their supposed ideological obligations when they are pursuing sex, romance, or adventure, nor should they!

    The neo-Puritans of all political stripes share one thing more powerful than their differences: an inability to fathom and accept actual differences among individuals; instead they seek to control others behaviors so as not to stir up the envy in themselves!

    The FBI actions smack of the worst of the J. Edgar Hoover era.
    Here was an affair that is about as consensual as one can get, and yet the neo-Puritans are treating it like some kind of back alley stalking crime.

    Advice to everyone: re-read Arthur Miller’s masterpiece play–The Crucible and see the film and don’t forget the incredible harm that anti-sex attitudes have wrought for centuries, especially in Massachusetts.

    • Mary Mendoza

      I strongly recommend reading the attached articles about what Paula Broadwell and David Petraeus’s little escape may have beyond the self centered confines of their little world: and . The so-called “anti-sex” attitudes are in not that at all, but a vital part of keeping good order and discipline. If you’re a soldier going away on deployment/war or what have you, and you worry that a senior or higher ranking officer is going to come along and poach your wife, willing or otherwise, then you’re not going to have your mind on the mission at hand, placing your life and those around you in jeapordy. Also, and it must be reiterated here, Petraeus is a four star general and Broadwell is a Lt. Colornel- both officers. They are supposed to be examples of what to follow- that’s the whole point of being an officer

  • Kevin Young

    How ironic that her high school class back in Bismarck voted her “Most likely to be remembered.” I just wonder what her classmates are thinking now?…

  • gorilla monsoon

    If I were Petraeus wife, I would castrate the old fool. Who does he think he is? Some druggie rock star with any old girl? But best of all. I would love some time to the study ruinous Broadwell Babe. She will be famous like Monica Lewinsky. Remember the blue denim dress? It was a favorite Halloween costume that year.

  • Carolina b

    Paula Broadwell actually did us a favor in helping us to bring Petreaus down (hopefully more than just temporarily). I consider that man a Machiavellian Neo-Conservative. He is dangerous and I am glad people are starting to see him for who he is. Thanks Paula!