Joe Klein on Obama

Interesting tidbit from Joe Klein’s new piece in Time on Obama.

The Obama/Petraeus relationship I find fascinating.  [I still think they might be running against each other president, but that for ’12].

When Obama went to Iraq in the summer, he met with “King David” (as he is affectionately known) and the General gave him his vaunted Power Point Presentation that almost single-handedly sold the Surge and undid Baker-Hamilton.  Obama responds by saying that he appreciates Petraeus’ position and understands that this is his job (he’s the Commander of Forces in Iraq after all), but that Obama’s job was overall strategy.


A “spirited” conversation ensued, one person who was in the room told me. “It wasn’t a perfunctory recitation of talking points. They were arguing their respective positions, in a respectful way.” The other two Senators — Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed — told Petraeus they agreed with Obama. According to both Obama and Petraeus, the meeting — which lasted twice as long as the usual congressional briefing — ended agreeably. Petraeus said he understood that Obama’s perspective was, necessarily, going to be more strategic. Obama said that the timetable obviously would have to be flexible. But the Senator from Illinois had laid down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war — an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly) — Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command.

Petraeus as already mentioned before on the site, has an interesting relationship vis a vis civilian authority, particularly given Bush gave him carte blanche.  The General’s recent strategic re-assessments of the entire region in his Command (Middle East and Central/Southwestern Asia) are an attempt some think to do a similiar move with the larger theater as he did with Iraq.  Except the Power Points to be coming out–that he gave his talk at the Heritage Foundation last week is of course a piece of evidence in this regard.  [Recall that during the Surge discussions, Petraeus was interviewed by Hugh Hewitt.]

However in this case, it might be less combative than Iraq:

Actually, Obama and Petraeus seem to be thinking along similar lines with regard to Afghanistan. I mentioned that Petraeus had recently given a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in which he raised the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban. “You know, I think this is one useful lesson that is applicable from Iraq,” Obama said without hesitation. “The Sunni awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally,” he said, referring to the Petraeus-led effort to turn the Sunni tribes away from the more radical elements of the insurgency. “Whether there are those same opportunities in Afghanistan I think should be explored,” he said. In fact, senior U.S. military officials have told me that there is a possibility of splitting Pashtun tribes away from the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan. “But we have to do it through the Karzai government,” a senior officer told me, referring to the fact that the Army had acted independently of the Maliki government in creating the Anbar Awakening. “That is one lesson we’ve learned from Iraq.”

Obviously Hamid Karzai already wants to (and has met with) the Taliban so there is no Maliki scenario in Afghanistan. Iraq’s history is a minority ruling over a majority who pined for power–and another group that wanted out (Kurds).  Afghanistan’s history is a series of minority groups who trade places in rule (with the Pashtuns typically dominant) but have a way of dealing with each other that is completely different than Iraq.  i.e. Any group knows they may lose power and the others may come in–the Northern Alliance cut deals with the Taliban/Al-Qaeda and vice versa even while fighting each other–because they know how they treat the other while in power will go a long way to determining how they are tretaed when the others grab the reins.

Going to get interesting, that’s for sure.

Pakistani Goings On

News out today of another missile attack from a drone into Pakistani (Frontier Provinces). As always sadly civilians were killed. This comes on the heels of an actual ground force into Pakistan. The Asian Times is reporting that the new president of Pakistan, elected this weekend, Ali Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) is on board with the US/NATO attacks in Pakistan, however much for public consumption he has to decry the intrusion on Pakistani sovereignty. The Atimes article also argues that Zardari has the Intelligence Services in Pakistan under control. Or rather that with the size of his victory, the Army (and ISI) won’t challenge such a putsch. That’s a shocking claim given the recent history, and I’m not sure I’d by that one without more evidence.

But it certainly represents the achievement of the US plan to back Bhutto and basically install her in Pakistan after it was clear that our SOB in Pakistan, Musharraf, was in an untenable position (well Cheney apparently held out on Musharraf to the bitter end).

The Obama Presidency re: Afghanistan and Pakistan is now under way, in a less intense version than he has called for–particularly in terms of nuumbers of troops into Afghanistan. And as Bob Woodward’s new book makes clear, David Petraeus was made CentCom Commander in an attempt to preempt Obama (or any Democratic President) from drawing down more quickly on Iraq. I can see a coming clash between a President Obama and CentCom Petraeus. And right smack dab between those two fronts is of course Iran. What an absolute disaster.

But whatever else may be going on with Pakistan, they fight in the Long War a war of existential survival whereas the US fights a war of discipline.  Obviously the stakes are high given Afghanistan, Kashmir, and the history of militancy arising from Pakistan.  Olivier Roy points out that so much trans-national militancy has arisen from Pakistan because it was never really a full state rather a piece together amalgamation and a notion of an “Islamic state”. A failure in this policy (and hell even a “success” however that is defined) could lead to a renewed jihadi movement emanating from Pakistan (and Afghanistan).  And we know the last time that happened, how that story ended.

Petraeus News

[Petraeus in ’12 stock just went up}.

Major huge news out today, General Petraeus is tapped to become new CentCom Commander (the old Fallon position).  I thought he would be headed for NATO but given that Afghanistan falls within Central Command, this is just as important, maybe more so.

A couple of issues going forward.

From Cernig:

And so Bush will replace a straight-talking commander who reportedly said no-one would attack iran on his watch with someone Admiral Fallon supposedly disliked intensely, someone who has been willing to accuse Iran of all kinds of meddling in Iraq on the basis of little or no evidence which stands up to public scrutiny.

I hope Congress quizzes Petraus deeply now on his mindset regarding Iran – in particular about the Iraqi government’s Maliki/Hakim’axis and its close ties with Iran. Maybe someone could remind him that when the US military first arrested diplomats it accused of being Qods Force plotting arms sales and attacks on coalition forces, the arrests took place at Hakim’s compound and those arrested had meetings scheduled with national security advisor al-Rubei and President Talibani later that day.

From Ilan Goldberg:

Second, the confirmation hearings should give Democrats an opportunity to finally get Petraeus to answer some central questions.  Is the mission in Iraq hurting Afghanistan and Pakistan?  What is the central front in the fight against Al Qaeda?  What about our overstretched forces?  Is Iraq making America safer?  Petraeus was able to dodge (Somewhat legitimately) on a number of these questions in the past by arguing that this wasn’t his job.  Well, now it is.  So he really needs to answer.

Third, there was speculation that Petraeus was going to move off to SACEUR right around January.  This guarantees that if there is a Democratic administration, Petraeus may end up playing a central role in helping design an exit strategy.  Of course, in testimony last month he brought into question whether he’d actually be willing to do that.  Which is huge, and must be asked again during the hearings.

From Mark Thompson Time:

Democrats are unlikely to mount a campaign to block Petraeus’ promotion. Yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the next CENTCOM commander must come with new plans for Iraq “if directed to by a new President.” Petraeus hedged last month when asked what he would say if a new President were to order a withdrawal plan within 60 days of taking office. He verbally juggled risks and objectives before conceding, “We take orders and we follow them.”

The impact of promoting Petraeus, however, may be even greater in the national security establishment than on Capitol Hill. It’s a wake-up call to old-school Army officers and their vanishing dreams of massive tank battles and artillery skirmishes, some of whom privately call Petraeus “King David” for his high self-regard and chumminess with reporters. Gates has made clear that wants commanders able to carry out the messy, irregular kind of combat championed by Petraeus that the Defense Secretary envisages the U.S. fighting for years to come. The promotion reinforces the message he delivered to young Air Force and Army officers on Monday, when he criticized their leaders for devoting too much time and effort to future potential wars, and not enough to the real wars now under way.

On the second point that means de-emphasizing large scale wars (sorry anti-Chinese and Russian neo-cons).  It fits with Sec. Gates seemingly at the time random smackdown of the Air Force the other day. Seen in this light, his words make perfect sense.

Petraeus is identified not just with Iraq but with counter-insurgency (COIN).

The problem with COIN however when not linked to a model of community resilience is Futile.

As others have noted one key to the appointment is to implement the long-term Bush strategy in Iraq, which Gates supports, of building permanent bases and help shift the election towards McCain or at worst pin in any Democrat.

When Petraeus comes for his confirmation hearings–let the games begin.  Hagel and Biden should be interesting questioners of the General to put it mildly.  But the key question is–If authorized to establish a plan for withdrawal will you do so?  What do you really think about Iran?  Is Iraq hurting Afghanistan?

If he hedges on any of those vote no.

Since the current president has abdicated civilian rule of our strategy, some civilians (the Senators) better take it back.

Obama v. Petraeus in 2012?

Did we get a preview of the next Presidential Election (after this one) this week at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (it’s never too early to start crazy theoretical speculation in my book)?

If so (and even if not), check out this column by Joe Klein on the Hearings.

The short version is that Obama took a kind of “allright you say the surge is working, fine, so let’s get out” James Fallows-esque gambit. Very interesting move on the Senator’s part. What Obama managed to do was make clear that the strategy as currently laid out is either A)un-winnable & unrealistic and/or B)already in place. Either way why continue on the current course?

Obama was good but not quite as cagey as Senator Biden in getting Ambd. Crocker to admit uncomfortable truths. And in the spirit of Democratic ecumenism, Sen. Clinton shrewdly hit back on the notion of non-Congress approved signing of a permanent bases contract with the Iraqi Government.

PS It doesn’t help to lessen this Obama is the Messiah meme if the picture they provide has him back lit with a halo.

Update I:  Petraeus says he is not interested.  For now he certainly isn’t and he could very well become the next NATO Commander. But he is known to be highly ambitious.  Question is in which direction (Joint Chiefs?).  If he wants to continue to push for Counter-Insurgency in the Army (over big Air Force and Naval style conventional war) maybe staying within the system is better. Don’t know.  I’ll be interested to see where he goes post-Iraq.

Published in: on April 10, 2008 at 12:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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New Iraq Plan Same as the Old

As anyone who had been paying attention figured out the so-called surge was creating a deeper embed than officials were willing to admit at the time–just like in the run up to the war itself.

Story from the NyTimes:

Troop levels in Iraq would remain nearly the same through 2008 as at any time during five years of war, under plans presented to President Bush on Monday by the senior American commander and the top American diplomat in Iraq, senior administration and military officials said…But it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president. That ensures that the question over what comes next will remain in the center of the presidential campaign through Election Day.

This is the real reason Admiral Fallon was canned from Central Command.  He opposed the surge and now this new “pause” tactic.  i.e. No troop reductions until this summer when the military does not have the numbers to keep them at the current level.

On one level of course this is sad because I worry about the troops in the battlezone.  4,000 are now dead and many many more psychically and physically wounded, scarred.

On the other hand, from a tactical perspective, since a Democrat will likely hold the White House next, and they will be left holding Bush’s bag, I guess it is better that Petraeus do what he can to stabilize whatever can stabilized of the completely disasterf–k known as the former country of Iraq.

Because Obama (assuming he wins) is going to start the draw down and it will be horrific to watch.  Everybody is waiting for the US to leave and the notion of a “responsible withdraw” as Michael Ware said might accurately describe safe sex practices but not Iraq.  The non-alternative of course is to stay a la McCain and continue the slow bleed and decline of US influence and actual power worldwide–not to mention how many more dead and wounded.

This news also means (as the article correctly points out) this issue will be front and center in the Presidential debates.  Bush’s dereliction of duty and McCain going around saying that history will look back on him as this foresighted great leader.

I know the patriotism stuff with Obama will hurt in some quarters, but with Iraq (where McCain is so against the grain of the populace) and his economic policy–which is to give more tax cuts to an even slimmer percentage of the rich than Bush…i.e. more regressive–he is deeply deeply out of touch.  How can a man who embraces a failed occupation/war and recessionary (or “sharp slowdown”) economic policies not get hammered?

The three top issues will be (not necessarily this order):  Iraq, Health Care, and the Economy.  And McCain is in a serious minority on all three.  His party lacks the organization and the finances.

Except of course Obama is a member of the Nation of Islam/Black Nationalist Power Movement and hates America, especially hates crackers (er white people sorry), right?  So I guess that’ll even out the playing field a bit.

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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