Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – The finer things in life

lamarIf I come back in my next life as an American, I am thinking that a career in the Senate might be a better way to go than in the administration or the military. Whatever you think of their political views, the senators who have visited our offices for the Washington Summit this week have not just been charming and interesting to talk to, they also seem to have time for the finer things in life. Take Senator Lamar Alexander, who not only has the time to watch Tennessee football pretty regularly, but also likes to play classical piano and has a date on center stage with the Jackson Symphony at the end of next month. “I try to keep a balanced life,” he said.

gibbsNo such luck for hard-pressed administration types, working at a pace that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says “is and has been grueling for a long period of time,” especially if you take two years of campaigning into account. Take Austan Goolsbee, who used to compete in the triathlon, but now has no time to train and jokes he is so out of shape he can’t walk up the stairs without gasping for breath. Or General David Petraeus, who is already at work by 5:30 in the morning, and when he goes to bed around 10 or 11 at night, only manages a couple of pages in whatever book he is reading “before it falls on the floor.”

That grueling pace is one reason, Gibbs argued, why many members of Obama’s economic team and political inner circle are on their way out, to spend a bit more time “with their family and their friends.” It is not, as Goolsbee insisted, an acknowledgment that the administration has made mistakes, or that it needs to change direction.

goolsbeeThe president sets direction and has always been focused on improving the economy, Goolsbee told the summit today. “And I don’t see that changing at all. Whoever comes in and goes out, I anticipate very much that the president is going to identify people who aspire to stick on that same course.” And presumably, people who don’t mind long hours.

Finally, some great stories from the summit today, including Goolsbee warning against any premature “belt-tightening” next year, Petraeus on plans to gradually withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Democratic Senator Jim Bingaman basically admitting defeat on climate change legislation, and various Republicans on their plans to chip away at healthcare and financial reform legislation after November’s elections. Plus our exclusive Reuters/Ipsos poll from Arkansas.

Obama delivers checkmate by moving generals

President Barack Obama managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

In a surprise move, he chose superstar General David Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal, whose team had badmouthed just about every top civilian adviser to Obama on Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone magazine article. AFGHANISTAN/

And with that one decision he managed to wipe away any impression that as commander-in-chief he would allow insubordination, and he preempted any criticism that he would allow the war in Afghanistan to be without competent leadership for reasons of politics and vanity.

It was by far the smartest move, and no one predicted it. That may have something to do with the fact that if the military was a corporation, Petraeus would essentially be taking a demotion — he is currently head of Central Command which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will now be in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

General Kayani steals the spotlight at Pakistani embassy party

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Pakistan’s foreign minister heads his country’s delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister  Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.