Friday, December 7, 2012

My Encounter With Paula Broadwell, Where Nothing Happened

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I went to the Marines Memorial Club on May 9, 2012 to hear from the author of All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.  Book tours are a fun way to meet semi-important people.  I didn't look closely at the book's cover, so I missed the chance to note that the biographer had a ghostwriter.  That should have been red flag number one that the book, its primary author, its subject, and its promotional tour were all contrived to one degree or another.  Analysts like yours truly can't afford too many oversights like that.

Paula Broadwell was immediately noticeable.  I did get the chance to briefly talk with her about her background in the military.  I mentioned my interests in foreign policy and she nodded approvingly.  She then turned her attention to others in the room who were going to prep her for her talk.  No flirting took place at all.

I didn't take notes during her talk, which was just as well because there wasn't much of substance to remember.  She giggled like a schoolgirl when she mentioned the CIA's drone program.  I didn't ask anything during the Q&A at the end because I didn't see any further mystery about her biographical subject that needed to be revealed.  Boy, was I ever ignorant of what was left unsaid, like whether "All In" was some snarky inside joke between author and subject about what they were really doing.  The whole tone of her talk painted David Petraeus in saintly terms, so much so that I was turned off from ever reading her book.  The term "hagiography" kept popping into my head, like so many uncritical "lives of the saints" stories I recall from the catechism of my youth.  One could be excused for thinking The Greatest General Of Our Time (TM) had no flaws besides the tendency to work too hard, which is the one most important flaw that job interview candidates are told to mention to a hiring manager.

The talk ended and I briefly watched Ms. Broadwell interact with her audience before I left.  I stated in my title that "nothing happened" and I truly mean nothing happened in her entire talk that warranted attention.  The whole show left me with the impression that David Petraeus wanted this woman polishing his image in the public's mind to "shape the battlespace" for something else.  Only time will tell whether that something else is a campaign for elected office.

The revelation of l'affaire Petraeus puts her sales pitch into its proper context.  Ambitious people have their courtiers and hangers-on.  Ms. Broadwell reminded me of every single mid-ranking female executive I encountered while working for large investment firms.  They all exuded feminine appeal from every pore and leveraged this persona to get everything their hearts desired.  Performing special favors for a powerful mentor is just another rung on the way up the ladder.

I am at least relieved to note that this sad affair was not a penetration by a foreign intelligence service or an attempt at blackmail (although obviously some form of "penetration" took place, heh heh).  Whatever notoriety Mr. Petraeus and Ms. Broadwell have earned will be completely forgiven by 2016 should either of them enter politics.  Their carefully constructed personas as dynamic, virile, all-American forces of nature will survive and thrive in whatever narrative awaits the national stage.  It is a stage, after all, and Americans expect their favorite performers to make repeat appearances.  The show must go on.