David Petraeus’s reputation sparkled like the four stars that graced his epaulets — and it was his best weapon as he battled his way up the ranks and eventually to a prestigious civilian post as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
When he pushed a counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq, President George W. Bush said yes. When he advised President Barack Obama to replicate the surge in Afghanistan, the new president overruled his own vice president and agreed. When Obama appointed Petraeus to run the CIA last year, the Senate confirmed him — 94 to nothing.
When fans floated his name as a potential presidential contender, Republicans reacted as if he’d win by acclamation.
“His integrity is above reproach. And any suggestion to the contrary is totally absurd and demonstrably untrue,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Senate floor speech in 2007 after the anti-war group Moveon.org took out an ad in the New York Times asking “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” because of his steadfast support for the Iraq war.
So when Petraeus fell from grace Friday, the drop was a long one. It stunned the political world precisely because he was so widely regarded as the model modern soldier — a thinker in fatigues who married the daughter of the superintendent of his alma mater, West Point, and earned a Ph.D. at Princeton. But neither his reputation nor his career could survive the shock of the extramarital affair he revealed in resigning from his post — a decision that came under the pressure of an FBI investigation that threatened to make things even uglier, according to an intelligence community source who spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity.