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Pentagon can recover from Petraeus and Allen scandals

The Petraeus affair and the 'inappropriate' e-mails of Gen. John Allen push defense chief Leon Panetta to demand changes in the military's ethical culture. But conduct by the book also needs conduct by a conscience that knows right from wrong.

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In this 2011 photo, Gen. John Allen, left, and Army Gen. David Petraeus, then top US commander in Afghanistan, greet Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul, Afghanistan.

AP Photo

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Rules aren’t enough.

That seems to be the conclusion of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta following a wave of scandals this year involving top military officers – most notably Gen. David Petraeus.

On Wednesday, Mr. Panetta ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review the Pentagon’s training in military ethics. He made a pointed reminder that senior officers must “exercise sound judgment in their stewardship of government resources and in their personal conduct.”

Conduct by the book, in other words, also requires conduct by a conscience that knows right from wrong. Or as Panetta put it: “An action may be legally permissible, but neither advisable nor wise.”

To be fair, he noted that thousands of officers regularly follow the military code of justice as well as make sound judgments. Still, four generals have been investigated this year alone for ethical violations and now in the wake of the extramarital affair by former Army general and CIA chief Petraeus, the Pentagon is also investigating Marine Gen. John Allen. The top US commander in Afghanistan was cited for “inappropriate and flirtatious” e-mails with a Florida woman.

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