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DOWD: A reputation is surrendered — yet again

As Lyndon Johnson said, the two things that make leaders stupid are envy and sex.

Macbeth kills a king out of envy. Egged on by an envious Iago, Othello smothers his wife out of a crazed fear of her having sex with his lieutenant.

Now another charismatic general has shattered his life and career over sex. When you've got a name like a Greek hero, and a nickname like a luscious fruit, isn't hubris ripe to follow? It's been a steep fall for Peaches Petraeus, once the darling of Congress and journalists, Republicans and Democrats, Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley.

Washington is suffused with schadenfreude. Yet President Barack Obama and others felt genuinely sad to see a man so controlling about integrity and image — he warned proteges that "someone is always watching" — spin out of control on integrity and image. As Shakespeare wrote in "Othello": "Reputation, reputation, reputation."

As a West Point cadet, David Petraeus clambered up the social ladder by winning the superintendent's daughter; now he has been brought down by his camp followers clambering up the social ladder.

Even when he was the CIA director, Petraeus' ego was so wrapped up in being a shiny military idol that, according to the Washington Post, he recently surprised guests at a D.C. dinner when he arrived to speak wearing his medals on the lapel of his suit jacket.

His fall started as Sophocles and turned sophomoric, a mind-boggling melange of "From Here to Eternity," "You've Got Mail," "The Real Housewives of Centcom" and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians." It features toned arms, slinky outfits, a cat fight, titillating emails, a military more consumed with sex than violence, a plot with more inconceivable twists than "Homeland" and a Twitter's-delight lexicon: an "embedded" mistress named Broadwell, a biography called "All In," an other-other woman of Middle East ancestry who was a "social liaison" to the military, a shirtless FBI agent crushing on the losing-her-shirt-to-debt Tampa socialite, a pair of generals helping the socialite's twin sister with a custody case and lawyers and crisis-management experts linked to Monica Lewinsky, John Edwards and the ABC show "Scandal."

"This is &‘The National Enquirer,'<TH>" an alarmed Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Wolf Blitzer of CNN. If only it were that highbrow. Now that erotic activity is entwined with the Internet, rather than closeted in hideaway Capitol offices and Oval Office pantries, it's even more likely to be a trip wire for history.

It is disturbing that an ethically sketchy, politically motivated FBI agent could spark an incendiary federal investigation tunneling into private lives to help a woman he liked and later blow it up to hurt a president he didn't like.

It's also worrisome that the nation's spymaster — who had presided in a military where adultery could result in court-martial — could not have found a more clandestine manner of talking naughty to his biographer babe than a Gmail drop box, a semiprivate file-sharing system used by terrorists, teenagers and authors.


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