David Petraeus, former head of the CIA, apologized again yesterday for the extramarital affair that led to his resignation, expressing sorrow that his actions “caused such pain for my family, friends, and supporters.”
The speech, his first in public since the incident, struck a somber, apologetic tone before the 600 attendees of the University of Southern California’s annual ROTC dinner. His wife and many uniformed and decorated veterans were among the crowd, which listened intently to the hero of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“I know I can never fully assuage the pain that I inflicted on those closest to me and a number of others,” Petraeus said.
In addition to the apology, Petraeus spoke of a need for better treatment of veterans and soldiers, and also noted the challenges of transitioning from military life: "There's often a view that because an individual was a great soldier, he or she will naturally do well in civilian world. In reality, the transition from military service to civilian pursuits is often quite challenging."
The crowd gave Petraeus a standing ovation before he officially began the evening’s program by cutting a cake with a sword, a military tradition and honor reserved for the highest ranking person in the room.
He started his speech by tackling his highly-publicized affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, discovered during an FBI investigation into emails she sent to another woman she saw as romantic competition.
"Needless to say, I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago,” he said. “I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing. 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 …"
As soon as the affair became public, Petraeus admitted to his staff that he was guilty of "extremely poor judgment" and that "such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours."
Longtime crisis communications expert Howard Bragman believes Petraeus has handled the situation flawlessly so far, noting that unlike former President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, and other public figures caught in adultery, Petraeus didn't attempt to lie his way out of it. Instead, he immediately took responsibility and moved on.
"I think the world is open to him now," said Bragman, vice chairman of the image-building company Reputation.com. "I think he can do whatever he wants. Realistically, he can even run for public office, although I don't think he'd want to because he can make more money privately."