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 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT