Petraeus' Love Affair Becomes Tangled, Shakespearean Web

Love affairs have a way of getting stranger and stranger overnight, and David Petraeus’ paramour with his biographer Paula Broadwell is no exception. Last night, the story reached Shakespearean proportions (though cross-dressing and fairies haven't made it into the mix... yet).


In Act II of this romantic tragedy a whole new cast of characters have joined the tangled web, including General John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and an unidentified “shirtless agent.” Both men appear to be vying for the heart of Jill Kelley, a close friend of Petraeus' who was central to the revelation of the Petraeus-Broadwell’s affair.

Petraeus and Broadwell, you should remember from Act I, both admitted in late October to engaging in a love affair, while Broadwell was writing a Petraeus biography. The two grew close as she conducted interviews during long runs with the famed general, who -- as she writes in the biography’s introduction -- could hold a six-mile pace while answering Broadwell’s questions. (In hindsight, that details feels a lot like dramatic irony and raises the question: What other things was Petraeus able to multi-task while giving an interview?)

The affair had been under investigation for months by the FBI, after an agent was tipped off to a threatening email that Broadwell sent to one of Petraeus’ friends, a Florida-based event planner named Jill Kelley. Finally, the FBI brought both Petraeus and Broadwell in for questioning, and the two admitted to the rendezvous. This revelation sparked a flurry of speculation about whether Petraeus and Broadwell’s pillow talk included classified information, which Broadwell may or may not have leaked during a speech at the University of Denver in October. There she alleged that the Benghazi attack was a response to the fact that the CIA “had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back." The CIA continues to deny this allegation, suggesting that Broadwell may have accidentally disclosed classified information.

Meanwhile, in a surprising twist, Kelley has taken center stage as she became the subject of potential love triangle that includes the agent and General Allen. The first lover to be revealed was the anonymous agent, who apparently texted Kelley shirtless photos of himself a la Anthony Weiner and then proceeded to become so obsessed with her that he was thrown off her FBI case. Yet, he turned out to be no more than a red herring distracting the audience from the real cyber courtship between Kelley and John R. Allen, who appears to have taken the more poetic route in his attempt to win Kelley’s love. The two exchanged somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of “potentially inappropriate” emails, which is obviously U.S. defense official code for cyber love poems.

So where does that leave us as these characters go hurling into the final act of this romantic tragedy? Both the original lovers, Petraeus and Broadwell, have already suffered their professional falls from grace. Petraeus has resigned and Broadwell’s reputation is thoroughly tainted, especially since the biography received criticism for being far too complimentary even before the affair came to light. General Allen, who had been slated to become the next Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe (the most modern-day Shakespearean title I’ve ever heard), likely won’t end up assuming that position. The “shirtless agent” has become a Twitter sensation. Meanwhile, an off-stage love affair has taken down Christopher E. Kubasik, the incoming CEO of Lockheed Martin, who was caught having a relationship with one of his subordinates.

All this brings us the Sparknotes literary analysis that the combination of men, guns, women and power creates tragic hubris for the characters -- and overwhelming entertainment for the audience.

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