the vital question of whether Obama is committed to begin withdrawing
troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011 -- or whether that's just an
aspirational target subject to being moved -- the statements from key
administration officials aren't merely in tension with one another, but
are exact opposites:
President Barack Obama's administration said that a July 2011 target date to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan was not set in stone.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and
the top uniformed US military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, sought
to sell the new approach under fire from Obama's hawkish Republican
During hours of questioning by two key committees,
they made clear that his target date of starting a US troop withdrawal
in 19 months' time -- a step some anti-escalation lawmakers, especially
Democrats, had cheered -- could slip.
"I do not believe we have locked ourselves into leaving,"
said Clinton, who added the goal was "to signal very clearly to all
audiences that the United States is not interested in occupying
Gates said the extra troops Obama had ordered
to Afghanistan would be in place in July 2010, that a December 2010
review of the war effort would shape the pace of the withdrawal, and
that the target date could change.
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I asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs if senators were incorrect calling the date a "target."
the briefing, Gibbs went to the president for clarification. Gibbs then
called me to his office to relate what the president said. The
president told him it IS locked in -- there is no flexibility. Troops WILL start coming home in July 2011. Period. It's etched in stone. Gibbs said he even had the chisel.
could possibly explain a contradiction this extreme with regard to a
question so central to the policy Obama just announced? How can you
have the Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State testifying in
front of the Senate that the July, 2011 date is "not set in
stone," that they "have not locked oursleves into leaving," and that
"the target date could change," while the President is saying exactly
the opposite: that "it IS locked in - there is no flexibility" and
"it's etched in stone"?
Is it remotely possible that
the months of extremely careful, cerebral, thoughtful deliberations
produced complete ambiguity on this central point, or is it that
Obama's plan is designed to be sufficiently ambiguous so that nobody
knows what it actually entails and everyone can therefore be told that
it means what they want it to mean? And which is worse?
* * * * *
UPDATE: Here is the MSNBC segment I did this morning: