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 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT