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.