By Joe Klein
General David Petraeus deployed overwhelming force when he briefed Barack Obama and two other Senators in Baghdad last July. He knew Obama favored a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq, and he wanted to make the strongest possible case against it. And so, after he had presented an array of maps and charts and PowerPoint slides describing the current situation on the ground in great detail, Petraeus closed with a vigorous plea for "maximum flexibility" going forward. 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....(Click for remainder).
By Eric Hirshberg
There are a number of people in my life -- some family, some friends, some colleagues -- with whom I have never agreed upon anything political. Ever. These are my political opposites. My bizarre-o twins. And they have been my adversaries in countless debates; the kind nobody ever wins, but nobody ever seems to tire of, either.
Sadly, politics have become sort of a new sports league in modern culture. We don't really listen to each other's points of view so much as we pick a side and root for it. And just as with our favorite sports teams, our faith in our parties can become blind. I have had about as much success convincing my Republican father-in-law of my liberal points of view as I have had convincing my father, an Ohio State alumnus, to root for Michigan.
But over the last few months, something unprecedented has happened. Almost all these folks have told me that, for the first time ever, they are voting for the same candidate I am: Barack Obama.
Now, these are not casual conservatives. These are people who, each in their own way, are deeply committed to their conservative beliefs. For most, this will be the first time they have voted for a Democrat in their entire lives. And when taken as a whole, they represent a fair cross section of the Republican Party. Some younger, some older. Some fiscally driven, some culturally driven. But almost all, up until now, have been intractable. Yet here we all are, staring down the barrel of a remarkably nasty presidential election, all in a rare moment of agreement. I figured this simply could not be an anomaly. Perhaps this was a groundswell.
I started asking around and found a number of my liberal friends were having a similar experience. So we asked these folks if they would appear on camera and share with the world why they changed. It seemed to me that the most convincing argument a conservative on the fence could hear might not come from a liberal, or even from Obama himself, but instead, from one of their own; a conservative who had crossed over. So we turned on the camera, and they did the rest.
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