Saturday, June 06, 2015

All In by Paula Broadwell (Book Review #47 of 2015)

All In: The Education of General David Petraeus
It would be interesting to know whether Petraeus' wife and other associates would have determined that this book was written by a mistress if it had not been leaked by an FBI inquiry. It's clear, especially toward the end, that the author either had too much information or was making things up, and is blatantly biased. How does she know, for example, what his expression was when he was the "only one in the room"? How does she know what he was wearing when he went out "jogging alone"? Broadwell writes in the foreword that she took "full advantage of Petraeus's open door policy" is thankful for her "luck." Knowing the full history of her level of access makes it particularly awkward. Things he confides to "another close friend" in the book are probably things he confided to her alone.

There is no criticism raised of Petraeus (or many others under his command) that Broadwell does not immediately and repeatedly rebut. A couple of Petraeus' speeches are quoted at length, making it much more of a puff piece than a true historical work. Which is a shame, because there is probably real value in the historical information; Petraeus is one of America's most decorate and most-experienced generals. Much of the detail in the book come from Afghanistan where Broadwell was embedded and posting reports from the front line on Thomas Ricks' blog. There is value in the historical overview of the Afghan war under Petraeus and McChrystal and the decisions which were made, but it will be left to future historians to determine how much was shaded by Broadwell's bias.

The structure of the book was not completely chronological. The book begins with McChrystal's firing as ISAF commander in 2010 and follows Petraeus' appointment to replace him up to Petraeus' appointment to CIA in 2011. Between these two points are roughly chronological flashbacks to earlier parts of Petraeus' career from West Point to the 101 Airborne to Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan with a stops at Princeton and the Army War College. This makes the flow of the book somewhat hard to follow.  The minute details of the time in Afghanistan make up most of the book as Broadwell was present.

Petraeus was the son of a Dutch immigrant and married the daughter of a 4-star General who became a mentor and inspiration to Petraeus. Gen. Knowlton had led the inquiry into the Mei Lai Massacre and developed a reputation for his hands-on approach on the ground visiting troops under his command in Vietnam. One gathers that Petraeus is ultra-competitive, especially in the athletic realm. He's a prostate cancer survivor and has experienced near-career-ending accidents both on the shooting range and while free skydiving. He pushes himself to train harder and do more push-ups than enlisted men half his age.

Broadwell refers to his "Team Petraeus" staff but deflects criticism by others (most notably in my mind Defense Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta in his memoir) that Petraeus was an egotistical primadonna. Broadwell writes that Petraeus got that reputation, in part, from his being aide to several top generals. She responds that the generals did not pick him for political reasons, they picked him because they saw he was able to get things done that others couldn't. Panetta remarks in his memoir that Petraeus' office was a "shrine to himself" with his challenge coins, metals, flags, etc. Broadwell never really details that, but it's clear Petraeus is the alpha dog eager to prove himself better than others and remind them of it. The title "All In" comes from Petraeus' demand of President George W. Bush during his decision on the Iraq "surge"-- if the decision was made, the government had to be "all in" giving Petraeus' soldiers everything they needed for as long as they needed it.

If anyone comes across badly in the book, it's Afghan President Hamid Karzai followed by US VP Joe Biden. Karzai is repeatedly caught in a web of lies and corruption, trying to play the media to his advantage and the U.S.' detriment. Biden, and unnamed entities in the White House, are portrayed as second-guessing and paranoid about Petraeus and other U.S. commanders trying to undermine Obama, something the Rolling Stone story on McChrystal exacerbated. The paranoia and awkwardness of the Obama Administration and the military are captured well in Robert Gates' memoir and, to a lesser extent, Panetta's book. The concern was that the generals were trying to "box Obama in." Petraeus was at least once quoted anonymously in an unflattering light by a source close to him. Broadwell defends the General at all points and writes that Petraeus repeatedly remarks that he is the most loyal general that Obama has and felt perplexed that he could be considered disloyal.

I was hoping the book would have more on Petraeus' leadership and management skills. When he first took command of ISAF he held 20 meetings a day. Whatever senior staff decided would be posted in key locations and sent out in bullet point memos to commands across Afghanistan. Petraeus' strategy focused on the following:
1. Get the ideas right.
2. Communicate the ideas effectively.
3. Aggressively oversee their implementation (Petraeus was criticized by some for micromanaging).
4. Get continuous feedback.

Petraeus considers himself a "relentless communicator," and Broadwell recounts those he contacted for advice in the early ISAF days. One friend who served with him in Iraq pointed out that the "dirty little secret" of COIN, the counterinsurgency strategy, in Iraq was that the police were never competent. The Americans just made the army good enough that the problem was overlooked, a point on which Petraeus disagreed. One key point that Petraus pushed in Afghanistan was the need for the State Department to provide more FSOs to work with both the central government and regional governments to build cohesion. There needed to be cooperation between local tribal leaders within a region and the central government in Kabul.

COIN involves managing expectations, "under-promise and over-provide." It evolved out of Petraeus' graduate work in the 1980s on low-intensity conflict and evolved as Petraeus oversaw some nation-building efforts in Haiti that prepared him for Afghanistan. COIN's implementation in Iraq is what earned Petraeus the phone call to take on ISAF. Thomas Ricks' points out in The Generals that Petraeus got many things wrong about the Iraqis that went unpublicized. Petraeus, according to Broadwell, took inspiration from T.E. Lawrence. In Iraq, he was dealing with the aftermath of de-Baathification, hubris in Washington, and trying to train up police forces without adequate resources. What Ricks and others have pointed out is that COIN is quite expensive-- you essentially pay the enemy not to fight while at the same time you spend a lot of money to build and repair infrastructure, on top of supplying your troop base. The Coalition spent roughly $10 billion/year for army and police in Afghanistan at one point.

Broadwell takes on Joshua Foust's account of the razing of villages in Kandahar in the book under Petraeus' orders. Foust has angrily responded, noting that Broadwell's own accounts of what happened are contradictory, and that she glosses over what other pro-American reporters have written. At the end of the book, Broadwell notes that villages that were razed were rebuilt with stronger infrastructure and that violence had fallen and reportedly trust regained. It's worth noting that Petraeus' son was deployed in Afghanistan so his orders directly affected him. Broadwell writes of the "mask of command" worn by Petraeus, not to betray emotions.

Petraeus reportedly wanted to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs but Sec. Gates visited Kabul and told him it was "out of the question." Outside of that position, Petraeus only wanted to be in a position that would continue fighting the Taliban and suggested CIA himself, according to Broadwell. Panetta opines in his book that he was skeptical of having primadonna Petraeus over the CIA, but Gates was "excited" about the idea.

In the end, Petraeus makes an emotional decision to take of the uniform in order to head the CIA and move back to Washington. It's there that the details of the book become too intimate and glowing for obvious reasons.

In all, I give this book 2.5 stars out of 5. It contains valuable information and history about the war Afghanistan but not a great level of detail about Petraeus' work in Iraq and elsewhere. If you're looking for insights into leadership and management look elsewhere. It's written by a biased source who works hard to defend her subject/lover.

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