There’s a great anecdote by Joe Klein about Obama’s meeting with General Petraeus in Iraq that I think speaks very well of Obama’s judgement and leadership, especially with regard to military matters:
Obama had a choice at that moment. He could thank Petraeus for the
briefing and promise to take his views “under advisement.” Or he could
tell Petraeus what he really thought, a potentially contentious course
of action — especially with a general not used to being confronted.
Obama chose to speak his mind. “You know, if I were in your shoes, I
would be making the exact same argument,” he began. “Your job is to
succeed in Iraq on as favorable terms as we can get. But my job as a
potential Commander in Chief is to view your counsel and interests
through the prism of our overall national security.” Obama talked about
the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the financial costs of the
occupation of Iraq, the stress it was putting on the military.
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.
I think this is a critical point, especially since Iraq is a single front in the war against extremist fanatics and Obama has articulated a broader strategy, with emphasis on Afghanistan. I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall for that debate!
Now, McCain’s argument has been that he was right about the Surge and supporting Petraeus in his Iraq strategy, but the problem here is that the Surge is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Waziristan is not Anbar, for numerous reasons (not least of which being that the locals in Waziristan are very pro-Taliban, whereas the Anbarites were anti-Al-Qaeda). Not only is McCain content to delegate responsibility to Petraeus rather than taking the broader view required of him as commander in chief, but his judgement is in fact severely flawed if he thinks that the Surge is a magic bullet. Keep in mind also that Joe Biden is a recognized foreign policy expert on Pakistan, so this bodes well for the long-term strategy of the Obama Administration towards the war on terror overall.