The saddest victims of the extramarital affair of retired U.S. Army Gen. David E. Petraeus, who resigned Friday as director of the CIA, are the families concerned.
His partner in the relationship was his biographer and reserve Army officer Paula Broadwell, who has a husband and two children. Mr. Petraeus and his wife of 38 years, Holly Knowlton Petraeus, have two adult children. Others may be damaged by the episode, including Jill Kelley, who accused Ms. Broadwell of harassing her by email, the incident that led to the FBI investigation that unmasked Mr. Petraeus's affair. These people were all collateral damage in the inevitable Washington personnel drone strike that brought down the CIA director.
He had to go. His mistake in carrying on the relationship with Ms. Broadwell could not but call into question his overall judgment, including the intelligence advice and analysis he was providing President Barack Obama. That is not to say that people, including those in senior government service, do not have a right to personal lives. But, as the United States has learned before in cases that involved senior officials, including former President Bill Clinton, a messy private life that becomes public can cripple one's effectiveness.
If Mr. Petraeus had been more adroit-- such as not leaving signs of the affair in his email -- he might have been able to get away with it, even if he shouldn't have.
It has to be said that given his distinguished performance in Iraq and Afghanistan and the major role he has played over the years in developing U.S. military doctrine, particularly in the realm of counterterrorism, his exit from U.S. policymaking is a loss to the country. But it was necessary.
Mr. Petraeus's resignation is ill-timed as the president prepares for other vacancies in his national security team, at secretary of state, secretary of the treasury, possibly national security adviser and probably secretary of defense. Although Mr. Petraeus's exit gives Mr. Obama a free hand to move fresh talent in that area to meet the nation's needs, the CIA position is a key one for the country and should be filled with care.