(USA TODAY) -- In his first public speech since resigning as the head of the CIA, David Petraeus apologized Tuesday night for the conduct that led to his stepping down following the disclosure of an extramarital affair.
"Needless to say, I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago," Petraeus said to a group of about 600 people, including many veterans at the University of Southern California's annual ROTC dinner.
"I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing. So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret - and apologize for - the circumstances that led me to resign from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters."
The hero of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has remained largely in seclusion since resigning. His lawyer, Robert B. Barnett, has said that Petraeus has spent much of that time with his family.
His affair with the retired four-star general's biographer, Paula Broadwell, was discovered during an FBI investigation into emails she sent to another woman she viewed as a rival for his attention.
At the time, Petraeus told his staff he was guilty of "extremely poor judgment."
"Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours," he said.
As the military leader credited with reshaping the nation's counterinsurgency strategy, turning the tide in the U.S. favor in both Iraq and Afghanistan and making the U.S. safer from terrorism, Petraeus expected a friendly audience at the ROTC dinner.
At least one expert in crisis communications said that if his apology comes across as heartfelt and sincere, the public will indeed be seeing much more of him.
"America is a very forgiving nation," said Michael Levine who, among dozens of other celebrity clients, represented Michael Jackson during his first child molestation investigation.
"If he follows the path of humility, personal responsibility and contrition, I submit to you that he will be very successful in his ability to rehabilitate his image," he said.
Another longtime crisis communications expert, Howard Bragman, said Petraeus has handled the situation perfectly so far and he expects he'll continue to do so. He noted that unlike former President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards and other public figures caught in extramarital affairs, Petraeus didn't try to lie his way out of it, immediately took responsibility and moved on.
"I think the world is open to him now," said Bragman, vice chairman of the image-building company Reputation.com. "I think he can do whatever he wants. Realistically, he can even run for public office, although I don't think he'd want to because he can make more money privately."
Petraeus, who wrote the U.S. book on counterinsurgency, led the temporary escalation in Iraq in 2007 before heading the U.S. Central Command and then directing forces in Afghanistan in 2010. He replaced Leon Panetta at the Central Intelligence Agency in July 2011 but served less than 18 months.