After more than six months of seclusion, mainly with his family, former CIA Director and master military strategist David Petraeus has begun a comeback. He chose a friendly venue for his first public appearance — the annual ROTC dinner at USC, an event at which he’d agreed to speak before the scandal broke. He offered an expansive apology for his actions, if not detailed, before shifting to the main topic of the evening:
David Petraeus apologized Tuesday for the extramarital affair that led to his resignation as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency last November in his first public speech since then.
Petraeus was invited a year ago — before the scandal broke — to be the keynote speaker before 600 guests at the University of Southern California annual ROTC dinner.
The retired four-star general has remained out of the public eye since the revelations of the affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, but decided to keep this appointment.
“It truly is a privilege to be here with you this evening — all the more so given my personal journey over the past five months,” he said. “I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago … I’m also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing,” he said Tuesday night.
“So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret and apologize for the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters,” he added.
With this appearance, Petraeus hopes to clear some of the clouds away from his reputation and begin a new career — somewhere. Petraeus has been clearing the path for this effort over the past few weeks:
In recent months, however, Mr. Petraeus has increasingly appeared in public for lunches and dinners with former colleagues, foreign officials, members of Congress and policy experts. He met not long ago in New York with Fouad Ajami, the Middle East scholar, and recently attended a small off-the-record seminar on Iran at a Washington research institution.
Acquaintances of Mr. Petraeus say he supported Mr. Obama’s decision to nominate John O. Brennan as his successor at the C.I.A., a view he communicated privately to two Republicans, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Mr. Petraeus has received offers from the financial community and has taken trips to New York to explore what one of his associates called “long-term opportunities.” He has been asked to serve as a consultant to major companies, been offered the opportunity to give paid speeches and is exploring positions in academia. Mr. Petraeus, 60, is also keeping up his physical fitness regimen, alternating between daily seven-mile runs and 25-mile bike rides.
His post-government life is being managed by Robert B. Barnett, a lawyer who handles book deals for the Washington elite and who counts the last three American presidents as clients.
I’d guess that Petraeus may have damaged his value in politics somewhat, but I was never convinced that he wanted to pursue public office anyway. Petraeus’ scandal was more personal than professional, and his value in the private sector or at think tanks should still be high. Besides, Americans tend to be a forgiving people — one of our best qualities — and a public act of contrition and responsibility goes a long way towards securing that forgiveness.