The University of South Florida is hosting a conference next week on the human dimension of modern warfare in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The list of panelists and moderators is a who’s-who of the leading thinkers on Afghanistan and Iraq, including those who advise top military commanders, a controversial former colonel who bitterly opposed the counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan and a major general now serving as deputy commander there.
But there is one name that might jump out to many: Paula Broadwell.
Her affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led him to resign from the CIA. Emails she sent to Jill Kelley transformed the wife of an oncologist who hosted parties for local military leaders into an international icon. And those emails, and the leaking of Kelley’s name after she reported them to the FBI, have become the basis of an ongoing lawsuit the Kelleys filed against the FBI, the Defense Department and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, among others, claiming that her rights were violated by the leaking of her name in an investigation in which she said she was the victim of harassment by Broadwell. The FBI investigation into the emails Kelley received was eventually dropped.
So even though Modern Warfare’s Complexity and the Human Dimension, being held Tuesday and Wednesday, is bringing people such as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, David Kilcullen, Maj. Gen. John Nicholson Jr., former Col. Harry Tunnell and many other important and influential thinkers to Tampa, Broadwell could be the proverbial elephant in the room.
Broadwell, who describes herself in her conference biography as “writer, academic and former Army officer,” co-authored “All In: The Education of David Petraeus” and is pushing herself out on the speaking circuit. She is scheduled to moderate a panel on counterinsurgency on Wednesday. Efforts to reach her were unsuccessful.
She was invited, say conference organizers, because notoriety aside, she is an expert in her own right.
“Paula is extremely bright and knowledgeable and has been a participant and contributor at things like the Aspen Institute (a major annual defense policy forum) and the Council of Foreign Relations, where she has her own professional capabilities and skills,” said Derek Harvey, director of USF’s Citizenship Initiative, which is putting on the conference. ”It is terribly unfortunate what happened to her. She tries to contribute so much to the thinking on our committee, to wounded warriors and how we need to do better in the world.”
Harvey, a retired Army colonel who later ran the Afghanistan-Pakistan Centers of Excellence at U.S. Central Command, said he is aware that Broadwell’s presence could take attention away from a significant conference on pressing global issues.
“There are always the optics,” he said. ”But she has value and can contribute. At what point do you allow time to move on?”
David Jacobson, founding director of the Citizenship Initiative and, like Harvey, also one of the thought leaders on international relations, agreed.
“I am hoping that we can move beyond that and recognize there are many facets to any human being,” said Jacobson, among many other things a sociology professor at USF whose book, “Of Virgins and Martyrs: Women and Sexuality in Global Conflict,” has just been released.