Skip to main content

Would a President Petraeus be in the cards?

By William Doyle, Special to CNN
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu March 28, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Petraeus has apologized for his extramarital affair since resigning from the CIA
  • William Doyle: Petraeus is superbly poised for a major comeback
  • He says Americans will give public figures a second chance when the apology is sincere
  • Doyle: Other than public service (for now), Petraeus can do anything

Editor's note: William Doyle is author of "A Soldier's Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq" (Penguin) and co-author of "A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America" (Simon & Schuster).

(CNN) -- David Petraeus, who has wandered for months in his own private wilderness, is superbly poised for a major comeback.

Why? Because he has apologized, and it appears that he means it. Americans like that.

Compared with some other American public figures toppled by scandal, Petraeus is coming back the right way.

William Doyle
William Doyle

Unlike Richard Nixon after Watergate, Petraeus has offered a clear, sincere sounding public apology. Nixon squirmed and sweated and prevaricated for years after he hurled himself out of the White House, but he could never find in himself enough manhood and public relations common sense to declare the simple words that might have saved his presidency in the first place: "I made some major mistakes, I acknowledge them unreservedly, and I ask the nation to consider forgiving me."

Similarly, a John Edwards comeback was never going to happen. Not only did he get tangled up with another woman while his wife was dying of cancer, he denied it, and then a "love child" appeared in the tabloids, as did a chatty mistress. Then Edwards offered TV quasi-apologies so weird and painful to watch that America decided just to switch him off permanently, shaking him off like a bad dream.

In contrast, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter's career seemed doomed by a call-girl scandal in 2007, until he held a press conference, took responsibility for his actions and asked for forgiveness. Result: He was re-elected in 2010, and is now considered a front-runner for the Louisiana Republican gubernatorial race in 2015.

Photos: Public figures, private missteps

Other polarizing figures have come back from messy, highly chaotic personal lives, like Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani. It ain't easy.

Marks: Petraeus to 'get right' with Army
Petraeus launches 'apology tour'

When I interviewed Petraeus for my book about the Iraq War a few years ago, I held a healthy dose of skepticism about his reputation as the man who turned the war around with the "surge." I felt that momentum for a turnaround had already developed before Petraeus got back to Iraq in early 2007, thanks in part to the Iraqi Awakening movement of 2006 and its American supporters, largely fairly junior U.S. military officers in Anbar Province, like Capt. Travis Patriquin and his colleagues.

The funny thing was, Petraeus told me he thought pretty much the same thing himself. That impressed me. Either he is a self-aware man with a dose of humility or a shrewd manipulator of his audience. Either trait will serve him well.

I doubt we'll see Petraeus in a straight government job anytime soon. The circumstances of his CIA departure were just too messy. But other than public service, the world is his oyster, thanks to the towering reputation he had before the scandal.

Petraeus might even run for office someday. Given his intelligence and communication skills, and the often wretched choices voters are presented with, he might even have a shot. After that, would a President Petraeus be in the cards? A real long shot. But don't laugh too hard. Stranger things have happened.

For now, though, he is well-positioned to become a highly sought-after TV pundit, corporate board member, Silicon Valley partner, you name it.

He might write a big book about his career and military insights. He'll be courted by Hollywood and the press. In the right Hollywood hands, his book might even make a hell of a good movie. He will give big speeches on the national security issues of the day, and might even advise a president or two again someday.

Americans seem to have limited patience for public figures who lie, cheat, steal or make spectacles that make everyone look silly.

But when people foul up in a spectacular fashion, especially when it involves a personal matter, Americans will give them a break and a second chance -- as long as they stand up like a man or a woman, admit they screwed up, say they're sorry and look like they damn well mean it.

Welcome back, Gen. Petraeus.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William Doyle.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT