Before we knew the details of Paula Broadwell’s affair with David Petraeus — where she lived, or what her husband’s name was, or how many kids they had — we knew the name of her book.
All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. That double entendre set the tone for Broadwell’s introduction to the world. She was everything a TV drama — or post-election media cycle — could want in a mistress. A Tracy Flick type who’d used a powerful man to get ahead, indifferent to those she’d hurt in the process. A femme fatale for the political set. She was the exotic, globe-trotting Angelina to Holly’s stay-at-home, all-American Jennifer, with a touch of Glenn Close’s Fatal Attraction crazy (the affair’s discovery was allegedly set in motion when Broadwell sent harassing e-mails to another woman Petraeus knew).
Broadwell “got her claws into him,” an anonymous military source said. She was an event crasher and “shameless self-promotion prom queen.” She was “hardly shy” about showing off her access to Petraeus. Her fairly standard business-casual attire was described as “usually tight shirts and pants.” David Petraeus had let down his guard, and this beautiful “lifelong high achiever” saw her big chance.
But Broadwell’s friends say that — if that stereotype ever fits anyone — it doesn’t fit her. That she’s a friendly and genuine person with enough ability to have been successful with or without Petraeus’ help.
“She is a very caring individual,” said a military academic who knows her and asked to remain anonymous.
One colleague of Broadwell’s laughed when I asked if Broadwell was as ruthless and ambitious as she’s being portrayed. “Ninety percent of Washington is ambitious,” he said.
“Worth keeping in mind: Broadwell is a really smart, decent, good-hearted person with a family,” tweeted writer and policy analyst Reihan Salam, who later added Broadwell was a friendly acquaintance.
“I have some serious questions about who is connecting these dots and how … Paula Broadwell is not the type,” Broadwell’s friend David Bixler told ABC News. Bixler is a double amputee who knows Broadwell though her charity work with veterans’ groups. (She pledged 20% of her All In hardcover net proceeds to wounded warrior organizations.)
A former government official close with Petraeus takes issue with the theory that an enamored Petraeus worked with Broadwell only because of her good looks, arguing that the general was known for mentoring all sorts of up-and-comers.
“One of Petraeus’ greatest attributes is his ability to identify talent and groom it,” he said, “to the benefit of larger organizations, but also to his benefit in the end.”
But Broadwell’s social media trail hasn’t helped her case. Earlier this year, she posted a photo to Facebook of Petraeus in his office with Angelina Jolie — a violation of protocol that ruffled a few CIA officials, the AP reported. Her last tweet, sent four days before the scandal broke, linked to a recent Newsweek piece she wrote on Petraeus. A few months ago, she shared Katie Roiphe’s Newsweek story about powerful women who want to be sexually dominated. She’s tweeted about running with Lance Armstrong, hanging out with Katie Couric and Anne-Marie Slaughter, and that time she did push-ups with Jon Stewart.
And yet a few days ago, this handle-dropping wouldn’t have seemed that unusual. Broadwell was a first-time author trying to make a name for herself, and publicizing one’s connections is to some extent the point of Twitter. Most writers’ online presences would probably support a portrayal of them as shameless and fame-hungry.
There’s no intrinsic connection, Broadwell defenders point out, between being ambitious and lacking scruples. “She’s a very, very driven woman. She’s an alpha dog, just like Petraeus,” Michael Yon, a war correspondent who met Broadwell in Kabul, told BuzzFeed. “But I’m not saying that makes her a seductress.”
She’s always been an alpha dog. At Century High School in Bismarck, North Dakota, Paula Kranz was a valedictorian, homecoming queen, and student council president who played in the orchestra and on the basketball team. She graduated in 1991 and went to the United States Military Academy at West Point; she’s pictured as a runner in the 1992 yearbook with the caption, “Paula Kranz strides past the opposition and looks for her next victim.”
She graduated in 1995 and went on to serve in the Army and get a master’s degree in international security. In 2005, she went to Harvard to pursue another degree in public policy. In 2007, she became, somewhat bizarrely, a demonstrator/model for KRISS Firearms. (Yes, there’s a video.) But it was at Harvard, in the spring of 2006, that she met David Petraeus, who’d later agree to be an adviser for her dissertation on military leadership. In 2010, he’d agree to let her shadow him in Afghanistan, where she would turn her case study of him into a book.
Broadwell traveled back to the states with Petraeus in July 2011 — a rumored Paris vacation was actually a formal farewell stop on his redeployment route from Afghanistan, during which that now-famous plane photo was taken, a source familiar with the trip said. She returned to her two-story home in Charlotte, North Carolina, where her husband Scott, a radiologist, and their two boys were waiting. (Remarkably, they live in the same upper-middle class neighborhood as John Edwards’ outspoken mistress Rielle Hunter.) Around November, the affair with Petraeus began, sources told the New York Times. In January, Broadwell’s book was released to mixed reviews.
The book had its admirers, including Tom Brokaw, who called it “instructive and inspiring,” and Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden, who said the book was “fascinating and insightful.” But there were also serious detractors, including BuzzFeed’s Michael Hastings, who in his Rolling Stone review called it “a work of fan fiction.”
For her part, Broadwell has remained silent, deleting her personal website and Facebook page after news broke of Petraeus’ resignation Friday. She was supposed to celebrate her 40th birthday in DC last weekend, but her husband e-mailed guests on Friday: “The party is canceled on Saturday. Thanks!” (Incidentally, Petraeus’ birthday was also earlier this week.)
In Afghanistan, Michael Yon said, he heard a few rumors about the affair — “She’s a really hot woman in the war zone. Let’s be biological about this” — but gossip was not rampant, perhaps because the affair hadn’t begun yet. It’s said to have ended this summer, months before Broadwell was brought in for questioning by the FBI after sending anonymous, apparently threatening e-mails to Petraeus’ female friend Jill Kelley — an allegation that launched an FBI investigation eventually uncovering lewd e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus.
“Everybody believes Petraeus is going to bounce back,” Yon said. “But with Paula, it could go either way. Flip a coin. I will say, she’s already a tough person. If you don’t give permission to be defeated, you’re pretty hard to beat.”