When Paula Met David: Passion or Premeditation?
By Peggy Drexler, November 16, 2012.

In the Clinton Administration, they were called “bimbo eruptions.” There was even a staffer assigned to handle them.

From Jennifer Flowers to Monica Lewinsky; from Elliot Spitzer’s prostitutes to John Edwards “videographer”, the events followed script: powerful male meets disposable female. Things get hot; things go public. And the woman sinks quietly beneath surface of her fleeting notoriety.

The affair Petraeus offers up something quite different. A brief scan of her resume shows that Paula Broadwell—West Point, Harvard, counter terrorism credentials, a life-long habit of coming in first in every endeavor—was nobody’s wide-eyed plaything. Compared to most of the male population, she was smarter, better, faster and, quite possibly, could kick your ass.

In the early days of a burgeoning scandal where it’s hard to tell the sexters without a program, it’s interesting to think about the motivations and choices that have become a topic of national security.

General Petraeus’ motivations may be as obvious as a 60 year old man enjoying the attention of a brainy, beautiful woman 20 years his junior. Reason and rationality may have been granted extended leave.

Broadwell’s motivations may be a bit more open to interpretation.

On the one hand, she may—like most of us at some point in our lives—have simply fallen for the alpha male. Few are more alpha than a battlefield general turned the nation’s protector against the people who would love to kill us. It must be intoxicating—especially for a military woman -- when someone whose life is consumed with keeping us safe from attack creates a special place in that life for you.

It’s only when you discover you are in a game of sexual musical chairs that things get ugly—which may well have been the case here.

But there is evidence of other forces at play.

Broadwell had combined a noteworthy career with an enviable private life: Major in the Reserves, mother, wife of a respected radiologist, lovely home in a wonderful neighborhood in a livable city. By all accounts she is a friendly, funny, caring person with more than enough ability to make her own way.

And yet.

She was turning 40. And she was “almost famous.” Acknowledging the hazards of long-distance analysis, it would appear—for a woman for whom finishing first was the only standard—that respectable anonymity is simply not good enough.

Before the story broke on November 9, few could have picked her out of a lineup.

Knowing what we know, researchers are combing the video archives for clues. And they are there aplenty. This is obviously a woman who is thrilled to have found her way to prime time.

Especially striking is the well-practiced posing and camera-ready gaze, the designer clothes, the casual references to her connection to power. This previously unknown Army staffer had invited reporters to her planned 40th birthday party—cancelled in the wake of the scandal.

She’s hardly the first woman to use a relationship to jump the line in the path to power. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—with a hard-fought and well-earned place as one of the most powerful people on the planet—came on the political scene as somebody’s wife.

It may well have worked for Broadwell.

Absent her “stay away from my guy” e-mails to the suspected competition, a policy post was likely, and higher office was a possibility.

If fame was, in fact, Broadwell’s goal: mission accomplished. But as is often the case with shortcuts, you don’t always end up where you hoped.

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Dr. Drexler is a frequent contributor to CNN.com. She also writes for The Wall Street Journal.

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