July 1, 2012

The General and the Tycoon-Philanthropist

All In: The Education of David Petraeus 

By Paula Broadwell with Vernon Loeb. The Penguin Press, 2012.

What must it be like to charge this hard? And to keep it up for 37 years? General David Petraeus is the image of a modern military hero: brilliant, ambitious, charismatic, a soldier's soldier and with the unique ability, as Admiral Mike Mullen said at Petraeus' retirement ceremony on Aug. 31, 2011, “to visualize the way to victory.” the general has his detractors, but his admirers outnumber them easily.

This book gives an account of a frustrating time in our military's history through the bracing, confident lens of a true leader's eyes. Despite a tendency to micromanage, David Petraeus knows how to lead and how to win battles as well as wars. an expert on counterinsurgency with a Ph.D. and six commands under his belt, he most recently led the surge in Iraq and then in Afghanistan—thankless and, after 10 years of war, seemingly endless jobs.

Petraeus knows a morass when he sees one: a terrified population at the mercy of determined combatants, militants and terrorists; a corrupt political and social environment; waning public confidence; and general fatigue among forces deployed again and again. And it doesn't fright- en him one bit. The book starts when he takes over in Afghanistan after the firing of general Stanley McCrystal. He had none of the time in the country that he had in Iraq, and none of the relationships with senior politicians and influentials. That didn't scare him either. Having read this, it's hard to say what would scare him.

Petraeus wrote what have come to be known as the 24 commandments of counterinsurgency which now form a part of the army's Counterinsurgency field Manual and, as Paula Broadwell, herself a West Point graduate, writes, “One has to wonder what Afghanistan might have looked like, eight years after Sept. 11, 2001, had these tactics been carried out from the beginning.”

“Live with the people,” he advised, “take off your sunglasses,” “be the first with the truth” and “be a good guest,” along with the no-nonsense imperative of “pursue the enemy relentlessly.” all of which makes one wonder, after the year this book documents—his command from July 2010 to his retirement and assumption of the directorship of the Cia in august 2011—what general David Petraeus thinks of the continuing one-step-for- ward, two-steps-back slog of the afghan war.

It is the mark of a good biography that the reader can take the educated guess that he would be dismayed, but would know exactly what to do.

Andrew Carnegie

By David Nasaw. The Penguin Press, 2006.
The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie
By Andrew Carnegie. First published 1920.

“Real and permanent good.” That is what Andrew Carnegie wanted to do with his money. One of the richest men in history, he was also the prototype for a capitalist philanthropist. a millionaire by 30, he determined to give all his money away in his lifetime.

Carnegie was entirely self-made. He arrived with his family from an economically depressed Scotland at the age of 12. He went almost immediately to work to supplement the family's meager income, and rose quickly through a series of positions, landing at the Pennsylvania railroad at 17 and taking over its western division at 24. At 20 he began to invest, taking enormous pleasure in money that, as he described it, he had done nothing to earn. That this would have given huge pause to his Scottish relatives, most of them rather radical socialists, either didn't occur to him or simply didn't slow him down. He shed his family's pro-union views and embraced the profit motive wholeheartedly. He resigned from the railroad at 29 because his yearly salary of $2,400 constituted only 5% of his annual income.

Once he went into the infant steel industry, he developed a brilliant strategy for making money, from which he never deviated. He invested in the latest technology so that he could always be the lowest- cost producer. This guaranteed him good returns even in bad times, excellent profits in good times, and the ability to buy up competitors at bargain rates when they failed.

He loved his money and knew how to enjoy it. He owned a yacht, a castle, a mansion and much else besides. Pictures of him show a rather jolly little man of barely 5 feet. He was happily married, a doting father, a golfer, a fisherman and a world traveler

With an intellectual curiosity that prompted wide reading and membership in debating societies. He was a master of cost accounting with an incredible memory. Even with A continual outflow of philanthropic works, he left an estate of $26 million at his death in 1919, an immense sum. A millionaire's money was not the millionaire's to spend, he believed. Rather he held it In trust to use as best he could to benefit the community. Libraries, universities and the well-funded Carnegie Endowment for international Peace were the result.

Carnegie actually wrote most of his autobiography. But he stopped in his late 70s, rendered, according to his wife's introduction to the biography, almost speechless by what he considered the tragedy of World War I. The book was finished and heavily edited by a hired Carnegie employee under the supervision of his wife, Louise.

It leaves out a good bit and sugar coats all unpleasantness. in the chapter on the famous strike at Homestead works in the 1890s, for example, he claims that his partner did not want him to return from his summer vacation in Scotland because he “was always disposed to yield to the demands of the men, however unreasonable.” David Nasaw's much more thorough book quotes a cable from Carnegie to his partner, telling him to stand fast against the strikers to the point of let- ting “grass grow over the works.”

The most interesting thing about these books is that they portray a completely uncomplicated and very happy man. Carnegie was a pragmatist with no ulterior motives. The central contrast of his life— the man who was called “the millionaire socialist” in his youth becoming a strike buster—is a simple example of both his pragmatism and his trust of partners put in charge of day-to-day operations. His was the certainty that comes from success. This was the right way to do it, of that he had no doubt. And so, like everything else in his life, he simply set about doing it.