The Obama Administration’s Afghanistan Timeline Climbdown

How incompetent is Barack Obama? Apparently, he’s so incompetent that he didn’t realize that setting a timeline would encourage our country’s enemies while threatening support for the war here at home.

Initially, after Obama made his politically motivated “Here’s 30k troops for the Right and a timeline for Left” speech about Afghanistan, he sent a message via Robert Gibbs that, “there is no flexibility. Troops WILL start coming home in July 2011.”

Gates seemed to suggest there was some flexibility, that “it was a clear statement of his strong intent” and that “the president always has the freedom to re-evaluate his decisions.” After the hearing Graham said he took that to mean the date is “not locked in” and will depend on conditions on the ground.

It was a point of contention at the White House briefing today — I asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs if senators were incorrect calling the date a “target.”

After 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.

The Right may not see eye-to-eye with Obama on much, but in Afghanistan, most of Obama’s support is coming from conservatives who hate the idea of a timeline. The timeline led to a torrent of concerned commentary from conservatives who had previously been supportive or at least silent about Obama’s Afghanistan policy.

The result? Once again, via CBS News, the Obama Administration now seems to be saying that the timeline is for all intents and purposes meaningless:

When asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” whether the July 2011 date marks a deadline for U.S. involvement in the Afghan conflict, Gates said no.

“There isn’t a deadline,” Gates told host Bob Schieffer. “What we have is a specific date on which we will begin transferring responsibility for security, district by district, province by province, in Afghanistan to the Afghans. The process of that and the subsequent thinning of our forces will take place over a period of time and will happen and will be done based on conditions on the ground. And the decision on that will be made by our commanders in the field.”

When asked whether the transfer of responsibility means that U.S. forces will remain but merely cede responsibility to the Afghans, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “No, it means that as we assess the conditions on the ground we will be transferring responsibility to the Afghans, and depending on the assessment at the time, that means some of our troops can begin coming home.

Clinton said our increased commitment to Afghanistan, to break the momentum of Taliban, take back territory, and effectively train Afghan security forces is being expedited.

Pointing to the Marines’ progress in Helmand province this year, Clinton said she believes an assessment of what is happening will “very likely mean some troops can come home.”

Gates said conditions on the ground will determine the pace by which troops return.

“So we get to the month, the magic month, and he might decide to bring six troops home or something like that?” Schieffer said.

“Or 6,000,” Gates said.

“But it might be six!” Schieffer replied.

…When asked why a date for withdrawal was stated in the first place, Gates said the president was aiming to convey both resolve and also a sense of urgency to the Afghan government, that it must step up, for America’s role in Afghanistan will be different. “And as the security component comes down, the economic, development and the political relationship will become a bigger part of the relationship.

If Schieffer sounds incredulous there, it’s because what Gates is explaining to him is perfectly ridiculous. You don’t set a timeline that will encourage your enemies, dishearten your friends, and undercut political support for the war and then say, “In real world terms, it means nothing because it might only mean bringing home a handful of guys.” That sounds like something a child might come up with — or well, our amateurish President — either or.

So, why did Obama set “a date for withdrawal?” It had a lot more to do with his political supporters here in the United States than anything that was happening in Afghanistan. It’s so he can say to MoveOn, Michael Moore, Kos, Code Pink and the rest of the Left, “See? Stick with me! I’m planning to leave!”

Obama has now introduced a huge new element of uncertainty into the war effort that will undoubtedly help Al-Qaeda, get American soldiers killed, and decrease the chances that we will leave Afghanistan victorious.

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