Affaire Petraeus: Attention, un syndrome de Bethsabée peut en cacher bien d’autres (The lesson is that everyone is susceptible to the temptations that come with power and control)

Au temps où les rois se mettaient en campagne, David envoya Joab, avec ses serviteurs et tout Israël, pour détruire les fils d’Ammon et pour assiéger Rabba. Mais David resta à Jérusalem. Un soir, David se leva de sa couche; et, comme il se promenait sur le toit de la maison royale, il aperçut de là une femme qui se baignait, et qui était très belle de figure.David fit demander qui était cette femme, et on lui dit: N’est-ce pas Bath Schéba, fille d’Éliam, femme d’Urie, le Héthien? Et David envoya des gens pour la chercher. Elle vint vers lui, et il coucha avec elle. (…) David écrivit une lettre à Joab (…) : Placez Urie au plus fort du combat, et retirez-vous de lui, afin qu’il soit frappé et qu’il meure.  (…) La femme d’Urie apprit que son mari était mort, et elle pleura son mari. Quand le deuil fut passé, David l’envoya chercher et la recueillit dans sa maison. Elle devint sa femme, et lui enfanta un fils. Ce que David avait fait déplut à l’Éternel. 2 Samuel 11: 2-27
There is a dispute in the Talmud3 whether or not Bathsheba was technically a married woman at the time. The Talmud rules that she was not. The law was that before a man went out to war he was required to divorce his wife. This was a necessary precaution taken to protect the wife. In case the husband would die in battle and no one could testify to the fact, the wife would not be an « Agunah » (chained to her possibly deceased husband) and would be free to remarry. If, however, the husband did return from the battlefield safe and sound – the couple was free to remarry. Uriah, too, issued this divorce to his wife and thus, according to Jewish law, King David had relations with a divorced woman. Please note, that before King David summoned Bathsheba he « sent and inquired about the woman. » If David, the absolute monarch, desired this woman and was willing to go to any length to fulfill his « fantasy, » why did he first send messengers to inquire regarding Bathsheba? He should have sent messengers to « summon » the woman. It is evident that before David summoned her he wished to determine her marital status. Only after ascertaining that she was, in fact, the (divorced) wife of Uriah, did he make his advance. Furthermore, the verse testifies that David only had relations with Bathsheba after « she had been cleansed [i.e. immersed in the Mikvah] from her [menstrual] impurity. » Would an adulterer be concerned about such details? Ask Moses
Le pays tout entier souffre d’une crise de leadership, dans le monde de la politique, des affaires et de l’église, ainsi que des forces armées (…) Comme les soldats, les officiers des temps de guerre sont séparés de leur famille pendant de longues périodes et le poids des responsabilités – dans un boulot où l’unité de mesure de l’échec est le sac à cadavre – pèse lourdement. Pourtant, avec chauffeurs et personnel, quartiers privés et couverts garantis, le mode de vie de l’échelon supérieur des commandants sur le champ de bataille offre un tampon significatif aux rigueurs permanentes de la ligne de front endurées par les troupes. Ainsi les explications diffèrent-elles pour les défaillances. Lorsque vous extrayez les gens de leur vie familiale, de façon répétée, au cours d’une décennie, vous allez  effilocher leurs relations les plus fondamentales avec leurs conjoints, avec leurs enfants, avec leur propre code personnel. Paul V. Kane
The Bathsheba syndrome is named after King David of Israel and his affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his army officers. It describes how a leader’s success can cause unethical acts that the leader knows to be wrong. When the leader becomes successful, that person is given privileged access to information and the control over organizational resources. These are given for a reason. They are tools with which the leader keeps in touch with events in and outside the organization and which the leader uses to set and revise the organization’s strategy. But a leader might come to think that these tools of top leadership are in fact rewards for past successes. The leader may relax and enjoy the privileges and control of the position. When the leader succumbs to temptations that abound at the top, strategic focus may be lost. The job of leader is not being done. Often these unethical actions can be covered up using the power that comes with the position. This then reinforces the leader’s belief in a personal ability to control outcomes. Further unethical actions are then taken. Leaders may come to see themselves as above the law with respect to the rules of the organization. Information about these actions is kept from those lower in the hierarchy. Power is wielded to force others to accept these abuses. Those who complain are likely to be removed from their positions. The lesson in the Bathsheba syndrome is that everyone is susceptible to the temptations that come with power and control. It is not just the unprincipled that take advantage of being on top. To avoid this problem the leader must lead a balanced life of work and family. In this way the leader is less likely to lose touch with reality. It is also critical for leaders to remember that privilege and status were given to do the job and not as a reward. Richard Field
As we are now discovering, many of Petraeus’s closest advisers were very concerned about the “extensive access” that Broadwell had to the general. Many of those individuals may well bear some of the responsibility for the situation that has ensued. The Bathsheba syndrome is usually enabled by a phalanx of loyalists and operatives willing to defend the leader at any cost. The leader thus may come to believe that he is somehow invulnerable, allowing his passions and sensual desires to tyrannize over his reason and good judgment. Mackubin Thomas Owens
These general and flag officers are humans. Faced with stress, and a very complex combat environment, people make mistakes. These incidents do not represent the vast majority of our senior leaders. David S. Maxwell (Georgetown University)
Our military is holding itself to a higher standard than the rest of American society. That is beautiful and noble. But it’s also disconcerting. Sometimes military people talk about being a Praetorian Guard at our national bacchanal. That’s actually quite dangerous for them to consider themselves different and better. Kori N. Schake (associate professor at West Point)
The Navy’s time in the stress tester is coming. The number of ships is dropping. The number of tours will increase. Reliance on the Navy instead of the Army to back up foreign policy will become greater over the next decade than the last. If the Navy is cracking under a past decade of strain, what will it mean for the Navy when it is in the hot seat? Peter D. Feaver (Duke University)
Other national security experts warn that a decade of conflict shouldered by an all-volunteer force has separated those in uniform — about 1 percent of society — from the rest of the citizenry. Such a “military apart” is not healthy for the nation because the fighting force may begin to believe it operates under rules that are different from those the rest of civilian society follows, and perhaps with a separate set of benefits, as well. The NYT

Attention, un syndrome de Bethsabée peut en cacher un autre!

Pour ceux qui auraient oublié la leçon du syndrome de Bethsabée

Au lendemain de la chute du plus prestigieux et probablement du plus méritant des généraux américains de ces dernières années …

Et au moment où, par la faute des plus démagogiques des dirigeants politiques, les troupes françaises se voient non seulement contraintes d’abandonner leur frères d’armes avant la fin de leur mission mais privés d’une expérience qu’ils ne sont probablement pas près de retrouver …

A savoir, au-delà d’une armée américaine qui a payé le prix fort mais que les nécessités du moment ont aussi largement favorisé ces dernières années, que « tout le monde est vulnérable aux tentations qui viennent avec la puissance et le contrôle » …

Petraeus’s Bathsheba Syndrome

Why did a man we so respected succumb to temptation?

Mackubin Thomas Owens

November 13, 2012

General David Petraeus is arguably the most consequential and renowned American military leader since World War II. His resignation because of an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has shocked Americans. L’affaire Petraeus has two parts that must be separated: his sexual relationship with Broadwell itself, and the link between the timing of the announcement of his resignation and the Benghazi attacks on September 11.

Here I will focus on the former. What led a successful general at the height of his power and influence to have an affair that undid all he had accomplished?

In 1993, Dean Ludwig and Clinton Longnecker co-authored an article for The Journal of Business Ethics titled “The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders.” The name of their piece comes, of course, from the biblical story of King David and Bathsheba, recounted in the Second Book of Samuel. David seduces Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and impregnates her. He later orders that Uriah be placed in the front ranks of the fighting, where Uriah is killed. Upon word of his death, David marries Bathsheba. God is displeased and sends the prophet Nathan to rebuke the king, who repents but is nonetheless punished by the death of his and Bathsheba’s child, and by the later civil war arising from the insurrection Absalom (David’s beloved third son) leads against David.

Ludwig and Longnecker, as well as others writing subsequently, have argued that the psychological impact of gaining power, despite many positive effects, also may unleash a dark side: the belief that one is too big to fail, that the normal rules do not apply. Thus even a leader of high moral character may succumb to the temptations that accompany the acquisition of power. The findings of Ludwig and Longnecker regarding the moral corruption of the powerful go a long way toward explaining Petraeus’s behavior.

For one, they argue that moral principles are more often abandoned in the wake of success than as a result of competitive pressure. Success tends to inflate a leader’s belief that he has a special personal ability to manipulate or control outcomes, an issue that particularly seems to have applied to Petraeus.

The general clearly seemed to believe that he could control the consequences of his sexual liaison with Broadwell, his biographer. I reviewed her book All In: The Education of General David Petraeus for Foreign Affairs, and wrote that the book portrayed Petraeus as the modern exemplar of the soldier-scholar-statesman. “The Petraeus that emerges from Broadwell’s book,” I wrote, “is educated, committed, competitive, driven, and inspiring.” I noted Broadwell’s “extensive access to the general and his subordinates over a prolonged period” but concluded that All In had avoided the “pitfall of hagiography.” In retrospect, I was wrong.

Not all Davids who fall prey to the Bathsheba syndrome have an actual Bathsheba, but Petraeus did. Although I absolved her of hagiography, it seemed clear that Broadwell, a West Point graduate and Army reserve officer with an M.A. from the University of Denver and an M.P.A. from Harvard, was in awe of Petraeus. Twenty years younger than the general, Broadwell is a very attractive married mother of two young children, but her appeal to Petraeus no doubt went beyond mere sex.

As we are now discovering, many of Petraeus’s closest advisers were very concerned about the “extensive access” that Broadwell had to the general. Many of those individuals may well bear some of the responsibility for the situation that has ensued. The Bathsheba syndrome is usually enabled by a phalanx of loyalists and operatives willing to defend the leader at any cost. The leader thus may come to believe that he is somehow invulnerable, allowing his passions and sensual desires to tyrannize over his reason and good judgment.

This was certainly the case with, say, Bill Clinton. Although General Petraeus has always seemed to possess a moral fiber absent in the case of the former president, he too may have felt that he would be protected by his loyal subordinates. That is the fate of a man who succumbs to the Bathsheba syndrome.

— Mackubin Thomas Owens is a professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the editor of Orbis. He is a Marine infantry veteran of Vietnam.

Voir aussi:

Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers’ Ethics

Thom Shanker

The New York Times

November 12, 2012

WASHINGTON — Along with a steady diet of books on leadership and management, the reading list at military “charm schools” that groom officers for ascending to general or admiral includes an essay, “The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders,” that recalls the moral failure of the Old Testament’s King David, who ordered a soldier on a mission of certain death — solely for the chance to take his wife, Bathsheba.

The not-so-subtle message: Be careful out there, and act better.

Despite the warnings, a worrisomely large number of senior officers have been investigated and even fired for poor judgment, malfeasance and sexual improprieties or sexual violence — and that is just in the last year.

Gen. William Ward of the Army, known as Kip, the first officer to open the new Africa Command, came under scrutiny for allegations of misusing tens of thousands of government dollars for travel and lodging.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, is confronting the military equivalent of a grand jury to decide whether he should stand trial for adultery, sexual misconduct and forcible sodomy, stemming from relationships with five women.

James H. Johnson III, a former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was expelled from the Army, fined and reduced in rank to lieutenant colonel from colonel after being convicted of bigamy and fraud stemming from an improper relationship with an Iraqi woman and business dealings with her family.

The Air Force is struggling to recover from a scandal at its basic training center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where six male instructors were charged with crimes including rape and adultery after female recruits told of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

In the Navy, Rear Adm. Charles M. Gaouette was relieved of command of the Stennis aircraft carrier strike group — remarkably while the task force was deployed in the Middle East. Officials said that the move was ordered after “inappropriate leadership judgment.” No other details were given.

While there is no evidence that David H. Petraeus had an extramarital affair while serving as one of the nation’s most celebrated generals, his resignation last week as director of the Central Intelligence Agency — a job President Obama said he could take only if he left the Army — was a sobering reminder of the kind of inappropriate behavior that has cast a shadow over the military’s highest ranks.

Those concerns were only heightened on Tuesday when it was revealed that Gen. John R. Allen, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is under investigation for what a senior defense official said was “inappropriate communication” with Jill Kelley, the woman in Tampa, Fla., who was seen as a rival for Mr. Petraeus’s attentions by Paula Broadwell, who had an extramarital affair with Mr. Petraeus.

The episodes have prompted concern that something may be broken, or at least fractured, across the military’s culture of leadership. Some wonder whether its top officers have forgotten the lessons of Bathsheba: The crown of command should not be worn with arrogance, and while rank has its privileges, remember that infallibility and entitlement are not among them.

David S. Maxwell, a retired Army colonel now serving as associate director for security studies at Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, said that the instances of failed or flawed leadership “are tragic and serious,” but that he doubts there are more today, on a relative scale, than in the past.

Mr. Maxwell noted that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, both wartime presidents, fired many more generals than Presidents George W. Bush or Obama. “These general and flag officers are humans,” he said. “Faced with stress, and a very complex combat environment, people make mistakes. These incidents do not represent the vast majority of our senior leaders.”

Like the troops, wartime commanders are separated from family for long periods, and the weight of responsibility — in a business where the metric of failure is a body bag, not the bottom line — bears heavily.

Still, with drivers and staff, private quarters and guaranteed hot meals, the lifestyle of the top echelon of commanders on the battlefield offers a significant buffer from the hourly rigors of frontline combat endured by the troops. So explanations differ for the lapses.

Paul V. Kane, a Marine Corps Reserve gunnery sergeant who is an Iraq veteran and former fellow of Harvard University’s International Security Program, believes the military is not the only institution facing a problem. “The country is suffering a crisis of leadership — in politics, in business and in the church, as well as in the military,” he said. “We have lots of leaders, but we have a national deficit in true leadership.”

He acknowledged that the post-9/11 stress on the military, from enlisted personnel to commanders, has fractured the very souls of people in uniform. “When you pull people out of family life, repeatedly, over the course of a decade, you are going to fray their most basic relationships with spouses, with children, with their own personal code,” Mr. Kane said.

Other national security experts warn that a decade of conflict shouldered by an all-volunteer force has separated those in uniform — about 1 percent of society — from the rest of the citizenry. Such a “military apart” is not healthy for the nation because the fighting force may begin to believe it operates under rules that are different from those the rest of civilian society follows, and perhaps with a separate set of benefits, as well.

“Our military is holding itself to a higher standard than the rest of American society,” said Kori N. Schake, an associate professor at West Point who has held senior policy positions at the Departments of State and Defense.

“That is beautiful and noble,” she added. “But it’s also disconcerting. Sometimes military people talk about being a Praetorian Guard at our national bacchanal. That’s actually quite dangerous for them to consider themselves different and better.”

In extreme cases, say some military officers and Pentagon officials, the result of this “military apart” is that commanders may come to view their sacrifice as earning them the right to disregard rules of conduct.

They note that if anything positive emerges from an era of increased scrutiny of misbehavior, it will be an invigorated effort to hold the officer corps to account for the way troops are led in combat, for the way the treasury is spent, for the way military leaders wear the mask of command.

And they warn that the problem may get worse before it gets better. While most of the more notable improprieties have been alleged against officers of the ground forces, the Navy, which has not been the fulcrum of the wars of the last decade, is also showing strain. A study by the Navy Times found more than 20 commanding officers were fired this year for inappropriate behavior and misconduct.

“The Navy’s time in the stress tester is coming,” said Peter D. Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University. “The number of ships is dropping. The number of tours will increase. Reliance on the Navy instead of the Army to back up foreign policy will become greater over the next decade than the last. If the Navy is cracking under a past decade of strain, what will it mean for the Navy when it is in the hot seat?”

2 Responses to Affaire Petraeus: Attention, un syndrome de Bethsabée peut en cacher bien d’autres (The lesson is that everyone is susceptible to the temptations that come with power and control)

  1. […] les nécessités du moment ont aussi largement favorisé ces dernières années, que « tout le monde est vulnérable aux tentations qui viennent avec la puissance et le contrôle » […]

    J'aime

  2. […] les nécessités du moment ont aussi largement favorisé ces dernières années, que « tout le monde est vulnérable aux tentations qui viennent avec la puissance et le contrôle » […]

    J'aime

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