The Paula Broadwell/David Petraeus/Jill Kelley scandal is embarrassing enough.
But it is the backdrop that has been revealed that is downright chilling. Lost amidst the scandal is news that got little play — that four-star Gen. William “Kip” Ward was demoted, forced to retire and has to repay US taxpayers $82,000 for his lavish spending.
Apparently the general and his wife were staying at the Waldorf Astoria and enjoying other luxurious perks on the taxpayers’ dime.
Amidst the tidal wave of news reports in the past week was an image of Paula Broadwell and Gen. Petraeus seated on what appears to be a first class jet chatting with each other.
Not that generals should travel coach, but you can’t help but wonder if the trappings of life at the top of the military heap are so princely that the judgment of these men entrusted with the lives of so many, have become totally distorted?
It’s not just Ward and Petraeus, but what of Gen. Stanley McChrystal who had the hubris to give an interview to Rolling Stone ridiculing civilian leaders, including the vice president?
Then there is Gen. John Allen, who engaged in an exchange of thousands of emails with Jill Kelley, a woman who called Tampa police 911 demanding diplomatic protection from reporters camped on her door step?
And what of Petraeus and Allen, who wrote on Army stationary letters of support for Kelley’s sister who was locked in a nasty custody fight?
There have been descriptions published of the lavish parties Kelley gave at her home for commanders at MacDill Air Force. Is that what it takes to gain influence from top commanders — a little champagne and a nice buffet?
The British Historian Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
No one is disputing that a commanding general should enjoy perks reasonable for someone who has achieved such status. But the recent troubling history of top US generals, and this scandal in particular, raises profound questions about the culture that exists at the very highest levels of the US military.