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David Petraeus is not your run-of-the-mill husband with a wandering eye. He’s not just another philandering politician or celebrity cheater, like so many others whose indiscretions have come to light in recent years.

He’s a retired Army general who designed and led the military surge in Iraq and was top commander in Afghanistan. He had been deployed much of his career until he was named CIA director last year. His abrupt resignation amid news of his extramarital affair with a married Army Reserve officer brings a new wrinkle into an old story of why yet another powerful man risks so much for a woman.

Yes, Petraeus joins the list of wayward sons: Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer — just to name a few.

Petraeus is another, says Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University who studies such behavior.

Risk takers “tend to believe they control their destiny or fate,” Farley says. “The risk-taking personality has a bold quality. It’s at the heart of great leadership, and sometimes it overrides what many Americans would call common sense.”

Add in a dose of entitlement, suggests Mira Kirshenbaum, clinical director of the Chestnut Hill Institute in Boston who has written books about infidelity.

“Power and success give people a sense of invulnerability,” she says. “A lot of guys like Petraeus have worked awfully hard, and yes, they have a lot to show for it, but day-to-day mostly what they face is more hard work. Where’s the big reward? An affair can seem like a long-deserved perk.”

But what’s different in the Petraeus scandal are the greater questions his affair raises, including national security and the potential for blackmail.

Petraeus’ resignation letter, which cites “very poor judgment,” is particularly troubling to Dan Crum, a former CIA polygraph examiner and now consultant in Fairfax, Va.

“When he said he showed poor judgment, it minimizes the affair and characterizes it more as a one time poor decision than an extended period of decisions to maintain and continue the affair,” he says. “It’s almost like a ‘How dare you?’ response. It’s part of that almost arrogance — ‘Who are you to question me? I’m the one giving the orders here.’ ”

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article courtesy of USAToday.com

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