As Afghanistan votes today, a tangled but essential view of the politics in Washington is offered through an article by Helene Cooper, David Sanger, and Thom Shanker in The New York Times, as all sides in the bureaucratic fight try to get the reporters in their corner.
EA WorldView has noted since Obama's first week in the White House how the US military --- and in particular General David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan --- has tried to impose its view of escalation on a President who was supposedly "cautious" about ramped-up American involvement.
Well, this latest round is rather muddled, at least in Cooper/Sanger/Shanker's blow-by-blow narrative. However, if you strip away the mantras about the White House's deliberations and worries about the outcome of the strategy, the winner emerges:
When President Obama descended into the White House Situation Room on Monday for his monthly update on Afghanistanand Pakistan, the new top American military commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, ticked off signs of progress.
Come December, when the president intends to assess his Afghan strategy, he will be able to claim tangible successes, General Petraeus predicted by secure video hookup from Kabul, according to administration officials.
The general said that the American military would have substantially enlarged the “oil spot” — military jargon for secure area — around Kabul. It will have expanded American control farther outside of Kandahar, the Talibanheartland. And, the aides recalled, the general said the military would have reintegrated a significant number of former Taliban fighters in the south.
“He essentially promised the president very bankable results,” one administration official said. (Others in the room characterized the commander’s list more as objectives than promises.) Mr. Obama largely listened, asking a few questions, and two hours later, the White House sent an e-mail to reporters using language that echoed the general’s.
But even inside an administration that is pinning its hopes, both military and political, on the accuracy of the general’s report, there are doubters. Assessments from intelligence officials are far more pessimistic, and Mr. Obama regularly reviews maps that show how the Taliban have spread into areas where they had no major presence before.
And some military officers, who support General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy and say he readily acknowledges the difficulties ahead, caution that the security and governance crisis in Afghanistan remains so volatile that any successes may not be sustainable.
How that tension plays out in coming months — the guarded optimism of a popular general leading an increasingly unpopular war, and the caution of a White House that prides itself on a realism that it says President George W. Bush and his staff lacked — will probably define the relationship between Mr. Obama and his field commander. General Petraeus, who led the Iraq surge and was a favorite of Mr. Bush, has slowly worked himself into the good graces of a president who was once wary of him.
So far, the two men appear to be meshing well, advisers say. The men “are actually somewhat similar in temperament and style,” said Benjamin Rhodes, the National Security Council’s director of strategic communications. Both are meticulous, even-keeled and matter of fact, and both like to do their homework, studying detailed reports.
Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, “Dave, what do you think?”