Skip to main content

Would a President Petraeus be in the cards?

By William Doyle, Special to CNN
March 28, 2013 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
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
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT