General David Petraeus: The Surge of Ideas and The Loneliness of Command

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“You don’t get to choose your partners in real life or in those circumstances.”

“I truly believed in what it was we were going to do and I think the troops did, too.”

“It has to be their form of democracy.”

“We had a test question that was on the wall of the operations center whenever I was a commander, and it asked, “Will this policy or operation take more bad guys off the street than it creates by its conduct?” If the answer to that is no, you don’t do it.”

“When someone starts a request like that, it’s not something to which you can say no.”

“With great respect, as you’ll recall our discussion, my recommendation was driven by facts on the ground, awareness of what you’re dealing with, but at the end of the day, the facts on the ground haven’t changed, and so my recommendation is also unchanged. That was a very interesting, tense moment.”

I’ve always thought that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. In fact, that’s a quote from a Roman philosopher.

It’s something we really have to take to heart because it means you can’t admire the problem until it goes away, as people sometimes waggishly say in Washington.

Now, the other big issue here is that this is going to take a long time, and so I think we now acknowledge that this is a generational struggle.

My view was that you just can’t provide something that’s completely irrelevant because it’s so unrealistic — but that the recommendation and the options developed would be driven by the facts on the ground, not by what’s going on in Washington.

It was just the sheer knowledge that there are very seriously bright people out there who don’t see the world the same way you do, in fact, some who see it very, very differently from the way you do.

It lays out my thoughts on strategic leadership, in particular of getting the big ideas right, communicating them effectively to the breadth and depth of the organization, overseeing their implementation, and then, often most importantly, determining how they need to be refined, revised, shot and left by the side of the road, so you do it all over again and again and again.

A retired general stood up from the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, and said, “You just get us to Baghdad, Dave. We’ll take it from there.”

Then there was a degree of determination. There’s a little bit of the stubborn Dutchman in me, taking after my old Dutch sea captain father.

I can tell you anybody that’s fought them may hate them, may have disdain for them, may have a variety of other feelings, but respects their capabilities. It’s tough, though.

I remember I called up the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and I said, “Hey, Admiral. I just want you to know this is not the easiest thing in the world.”

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Producer of Extraordinary Lives 2019 @TellyAwards for documentaries @; Author of Be Somebody @; ex-publisher @Forbes

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