We're a fast-moving society — and, it appears, a forgiving one. At home in suburban Virginia, Petraeus is no doubt still making amends to his high-achieving wife. But in the larger world, the retired general is already contending with an avalanche of opportunities for his next big job.
He's had offers to teach from at least four universities and had conversations about seats on corporate boards. He's thinking about giving speeches, writing a book on leadership or even becoming a talking head on television.
And that's not all.
"Down the road, a return to public service isn't out of the question," a friend who talked with Petraeus told me last week. Not as an elected politician but as a potential Cabinet officer in a future administration.
"He just doesn't see himself as a politician," the friend said. "He sees himself in the vein of George C. Marshall more than Dwight D. Eisenhower." That would be Gen. Marshall who was Army chief of staff during World War II, became secretary of State under Harry S. Truman and won the Nobel Peace Prize for rebuilding postwar Europe.
So Petraeus is still aiming high.
And, characteristically, he's being strategic. He hired Washington superlawyer Robert B. Barnett, who helped Bill Clinton and George W. Bush make the transition to the private sector.
He's getting encouragement from politicians too.
"He is one of our brightest and our best," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last week. "There is no counter to that."
The public seems to agree. Petraeus' esteem among ordinary Americans was knocked down a peg by the revelation of the affair, Gallup reported last week, but it's still solidly in positive territory, better than philanderers John Edwards or Tiger Woods — and even a little better than Mitt Romney, who merely lost an election.
But Petraeus isn't entirely out of the woods yet. The FBI is still investigating whether Broadwell was given unauthorized access to classified documents by Petraeus or his staff in Afghanistan. The CIA's inspector general is quietly looking into whether Petraeus did anything else untoward during his 14 months at the head of the agency, aimed mostly at averting any unpleasant surprises. And Congress, in its wisdom, may yet find something in the scandal to chew over.
But Petraeus appears likely to go down in history as a beneficiary of what you might call the Bill Clinton rule: Adultery is no longer a disqualifier in American politics.
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