Tevlin: Although he's angry, friend sees Petraeus as 'human'

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2012 - 8:00 PM
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Lt. Col. Mark Weber received a medal in August for his service in Iraq. He stepped down for health reasons.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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The day before Veterans Day, Lt. Col. Mark Weber was at a volunteer event when a buddy approached. "Sorry about what happened to Petraeus," he said.

It was the first Weber had heard of the scandal that took down a man he had known and respected since 2005, the man Weber was set to serve until he was diagnosed with terminal cancer: Gen. David Petraeus.

"When I heard the words 'Petraeus' and 'affair,' the first name that came to my mind was 'Paula Broadwell,'" said Weber, a veteran of more than 20 years of service who is dying of a cancer that has damaged his liver.

The day before Petraeus resigned, Weber's book, "Tell My Sons," was released. The book, a long letter to his children that became a memoir, covers Weber's military career and features Petraeus prominently.

Weber doesn't claim to be a "deep insider" to the scandal, but the two have known each other for years, and became pen pals after Weber had to turn down a high-profile job with the then-general because of his illness.

Weber, who lives in Rosemount, had never met Broadwell, but he saw an interview with her about her biography of Petraeus, "All In," and had a feeling it was her.

"First of all, she's attractive," said Weber. "She's an Alpha, loves to run and she had lots of very personal access to Petraeus, who has been engaged [in war] since 2003. I'm a social sciences guy, so I understand the concept of transference. He may as well have starved himself, then set up a barbecue grill."

Be certain that Weber is in no way trying to make excuses for Petraeus. He's angry with him and calls his behavior "indefensible" and "universally objectionable."

Yet Weber is caught in that awkward place where he is trying to compartmentalize his feelings for someone he admires who has done something horribly wrong. He dismisses both those who lionize Petraeus and downplay his mistake, and those who are now vilifying him.

The day he found out about the scandal, Weber went home and sent Petraeus the following e-mail:

"Sir - Not sure what to say right now, but that can't be a reason for not writing and showing support. Both you and Holly are in my thoughts and prayers as you weather the storm of this trial.

Thanks, Mark.

Petraeus wrote back:

"Screwed it up terribly and needed to try to do the right/honorable thing. ... Appreciate your kind words."

Weber was the primary U.S. Army liaison officer with the Iraq Army under Petraeus and worked closely with Babakir Zibari, chief of defense for Iraq. He knows he's biased in favor of the man who promoted him, but says Petraeus in some ways became a victim of his own popularity.

"I never saw Petraeus as the superstar some say he is," said Weber. Like all generals, Petraeus' successes and setbacks were often tied to events he couldn't control.

"I see him in the human sense, doing the best under those circumstances," Weber said. "He is a great military leader, but that doesn't make him perfect. It doesn't mean he's out of reach."

Of the affair, Weber thinks, "He underestimated his own ability to deal with it."

While some pundits wonder if there may be more to the scandal, Weber says, "I'll eat my shoe if there is more to this."

Petraeus told Weber the CIA job was "the most intellectually demanding job in his life," and he thinks the general will move on after the scandal fades. "I can't imagine there aren't a lot of organizations out there saying, 'We've got a blank check written for you.'"

In an editorial Weber submitted to some newspapers, he concluded:

"When the dust settles, I sincerely hope that history will judge that the measure of Petraeus is not found in either the best act of his life, nor the worst act of his life."

jtevlin@startribune.com 612-673-1702

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