Friday, November 16, 2012
The Bathsheba Syndrome
Former US general David Petraeus, then director of the CIA, has landed himself in a major mess by having an affair with Paula Blackwell, his biographer. It appears that another chapter will be added to the bio, given that Petraeus resigned from his position and his once sterling reputation is in tatters. You will have noticed that everyone has an opinion on this story.
A phrase that is making the rounds in relationship to this story is The Bathsheba Syndrome, the tendency for power to act as an aphrodisiac for men, and as some sort of irresistable pheremone for certain women. I find the use of this phrase fascinating because it refers to the biblical story of King David's fatal attraction to the beautiful Bathsheba. It isn't enough that David has an affair with Bathsheba. He arranges to have her husband fight at the front of a battle so he will be killed, therefore having her as his own. Eventually David is outed by the prophet Nathan, and a contrite David bemoans his sinfulness before God. Psalm 51 is David's lament and plea for forgiveness. We read it every year on Ash Wednesday.
As the sad tale of former military superstar Petraeus unfolds some have wondered why he had to resign, since it isn't illegal to have an affair. One writer blamed the president for being a prude by accepting the resignation, a weird accusation to say the least. It doesn't seem to occur to commentators that Petraeus has a conscience, although one that kicked in too late. We human beings are incredibly adept at self-deception and we probably all have episodes we don't want flashed up on the Big Screen of our lives. But Petraeus may be genuinely sorry -- he broke off the relationship several months ago -- and feels he needs to pay some price for his wrongdoing. There are still some people who know that an affair is morally wrong, even if they engage in one. In his terse resignation letter he says: "After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours."
What do you think? Genuine contrition on Petraeus' part, or after-the-fact "my bad?" Should he have resigned? Should Ms Blackwell change her first name?