All In: The Education of David Petraeus by Paula Broadwell is an interesting look into the career of one of America’s most celebrated military leaders, General David Petraeus. The book mainly covers Petraeus’s service in Afghanistan as the head of the International Security Assistance Force, but it sets itself apart from other straight-forward accounts on the War on Terror by weaving biographical elements from Petraeus’s past into the narrative.
The book starts right after General Stanley McChrystal was removed from command in Afghanistan after making disparaging comments about the Obama Administration in an article in Rolling Stone magazine. Petraeus is called to the White House where President Obama asks him to lead the ongoing surge of troops in Afghanistan. Through the use of anecdotal accounts from Petraeus’s childhood in New York and his education at West Point, you begin to get an understanding of how Petraeus makes decisions, which helps explain why he accepted President Obama’s request even though it was technically a demotion.
General Petraeus was the best option to lead the war in Afghanistan because he was something of an expert on the issue having orchestrated the successful 2007 surge in Iraq. He was also a primary author of the military’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual which spelled out the strategy and tactics for dealing with the Afghan conflict. Broadwell chronicles General Petraeus’s efforts to turn around the decade old war and bring it to a successful conclusion until he accepts President Obama’s offer to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All In is a very informative look at one of the defining conflicts of our time. The book does convey a sense of optimism that the conflict will be brought to a successful resolution, but recent events seem to contradict that. Even though the book is only a couple months old, it almost seems outdated. Given the recent burnings of the Koran, the killing of NATO forces by Afghan National Army troops, and the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. Army soldier, one cannot help but feel that Petraeus’s efforts were unfinished.