It's simply disproportionate. A Marine Corps general who should know better alerts a ditsy Tampa socialite and VIP wannabe that someone is bad-mouthing her via email. The lady complains to a local FBI agent who apparently has a thing for her, who without further ado launches an investigation to uncover the email writer, who turns out to be the biographer and erstwhile paramour of the then-director of the CIA, formerly America's most celebrated general.
The press erupts in a furious feeding frenzy, while certain U.S. legislators, alerted by a disgruntled leak from the same officious FBI agent, and having accomplished little or nothing in the way of the people's business since August (and arguably little more before that) loudly proclaim their resentment at not having been apprised of the FBI's (gratuitous) investigation from the moment it began.
Were this a Hollywood movie - which, sadly, it's all too likely to become - it would be lucky to receive a B rating, unless written and produced as an intentionally satiric comedy on the lines of Stanley Kubrick's classic "Dr. Strangelove."
Instead, the Petraeus Affair has dominated the media virtually without surcease since two days after the election, displacing everything from the imminent threat of a fiscal catastrophe and a renewed Israeli-Palestinian clash to the war still underway in Aghanistan - in which, folks might possibly recall, American troops continue to risk their lives, under the command, as it happens, of the very fellow who, reports allege, unintentionally inaugurated this ludicrous chain of events, and whose own intended appointment as NATO's supreme allied commander now is in jeopardy as a result.
In the end, the revelations of the past week say much more, and much worse, about us and our preoccupations, than about Gen. Petraeus and his inamorata. Once upon a time, such a private affair would have been grist only for historians, and that long after the principals had exited the scene. The media had some standards then, both legislators and the FBI were more discreet, and Americans had more sense about what mattered.
Today we can't really blame any of those institutions for wasting their time and ours on trivialities. On the contrary, we reward them for doing so.
Doubtless David Petraeus should be ashamed of himself, although he's scarcely the first - and certainly won't be the last - senior military or political official to allow his male hormones to overrule his judgment. An incomplete list just in my lifetime would include Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, John Kennedy, Gary Hart, John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and - oh, yeah, let's not forget - Bill Clinton.
Compared with some of those affairs, Petraeus's brief dalliance with writer and fellow West Pointer Paula Broadwell - which, it should be noted, involved no abuse of authority or exploitation of a subordinate - scarcely deserves more than an inside paragraph in the National Enquirer.
Meanwhile, his embarrassment is nothing to the shame that we citizens should feel as the unembarrassed consumers of so-called news peddled by media with no apparent standards of importance, never mind taste, and as the electors of legislators with even fewer.
I hold no special brief for Gen. Petraeus. We've met only once and disagreed on that occasion. As readers of this column must by now have concluded, I remain profoundly skeptical about the counter-insurgency doctrine for which he largely has been credited, and consider the Afghan surge of which he was the principal architect to have accomplished little more than to prolong Afghanistan's - and our - agony.
But I also believe him to be a remarkably bright and capable leader and conscientious public servant, and see no reason whatever to forfeit those talents just because he allowed himself briefly to become entangled with an attractive - and, on the evidence, not entirely rational - female admirer.
On the contrary, with Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, were I President Barack Obama, having satisfied the obligatory political requirement to exhibit public disapproval of Petraeus's marital infidelity, I would promptly rehire him and tell him to go back to work and sin no more. One thing is for sure: no replacement as CIA director could possibly be less vulnerable henceforth to blackmail.
But, some sententious readers surely will insist, what a terrible model for our children! How can we restore Petraeus to a position of trust and confidence without sending our young people a message that such unseemly behavior is forgivable?
To which the answer is, that if any of today's youth raised on "Sex and the City" and "90210" - never mind You-Tube and Facebook - still have any serious illusions in that regard, they're either TV and Internet-deprived or developmentally disabled.
In any case, if parents really are worried, they can always read to their kids from 2 Samuel 11 about another, much earlier David who surrendered to his baser instincts, reminding them along the way that the eventual product of that unseemly relationship was Solomon the Wise.