11/12/2012 05:34 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

David Petraeus Morality Play Offers More Comic Hypocrisy Than Hollywood

WASHINGTON -- The Showtime series "Homeland" strikes many viewers as preposterously far-fetched. But it's gritty and realistic compared with the "Odyssey of Petraeus," a fabulous Greek morality play about hubris that has the potential to inflict serious collateral damage on the just-re-upped Obama administration.

The story teaches an old lesson: It's virtually impossible to overstate the comical hypocrisy of our leaders, especially those lionized to the point of canonization by a credulous media in search of uplift.

The other lesson is for presidents: Just when you think that you've "won" and can kick back and watch ESPN, a story blows up that reminds you what you didn't like about the job in the first place.

Now neither (former) CIA Director David Petraeus nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who managed to flee to Australia on a diplomatic mission) will be available this week to answer congressional questions about what the Obama administration knew and did -- or didn't know or do -- before, during and after the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

That alone is enough to give conspiratorially minded conservatives something to fulminate about -- and give Republicans something to talk about besides their unpopular defense of a 35-percent top income tax rate for the wealthiest Americans.

Petraeus' family came from Holland but, appropriately, the name is Greek: It means centaur or a surname of Poseidon. The "Homeland" show has only Carrie, Brody and Saul. Their story goes like this:

A beautiful, blonde, bipolar CIA agent hunts for, and has an affair with, a U.S. Marine-turned-terrorist. After almost assassinating the vice president, the Marine is flipped by the CIA agent. Now he's the frontrunner to become the veep's veep running mate, even though he's still in contact with his terrorist handler/journalist. Carrie still wants to sleep with Brody. Or fry him. Or both. Meanwhile, Brody's wife wants to sleep with him. Or fry him. Or both.

Well, try this, Showtime:

A much-worshipped, 60-year-old four-star general, who is running the dicey U.S. war in Afghanistan, reportedly falls for his "biographer," a 30-something married woman and Harvard graduate student whose ripped bod once earned her the title of "most fit" at West Point -- not to mention a gig as a model in ads for a machine gun manufacturer.

After he retires from the Army and becomes head of the CIA, he exchanges hundreds of steamy emails with her as she somehow manages to pile up -- and brag about her access to -- classified documents. But then she goes nearly postal at the thought that the randy general -- whose wife was the daughter of the superintendent of West Point when he married her 38 years earlier -- was now taking up with an even younger, though less well-toned, "social ambassador" babe in Florida.

The FBI knows about this for months, but doesn't tell the CIA until a week before the election. Then the CIA waits until Election Day at 5 p.m. -- the exit polls flooding in and Nate Silver is almost ready to call it! -- to tell Obama that Petraeus has resigned.

Petraeus' friends insist that he didn't actually strike up the affair until after he retired from the Army -- a significant data point given that adultery can be considered a crime under the military's code.

The personal issue aside, there is another level of irony, if not hypocrisy, in the Odyssey of Petraeus. He had gained fame in the Army for his counter-insurgency theory based on the notion that the war on terror could be better fought through intimate involvement with in-country politics and social dynamics. Yet as CIA director, he came to rely on drones, both for surveillance and attack -- a vivid symbol of the literally detached way in which we are fighting much of that war against terrorists.

No self-respecting screenwriter would be so heavy-handed as to make that point in a script. That kind of thing is better left to real life.