Prelude: Twitter is talking about this tweet from @KarlRove: "Guess the message is they think are smarter than Bush and ended up making the same decision as Bush." The Washington Post and the New York Times have tick-tocks of the President's troop surge decisions. And the President's top foreign policy cabinet secretaries, Gates and Clinton, taped interviews with the television networks.
Borrowing a little bit of Mike Allen-esque White House mind-melding: The goal was not -- so much -- to send a message to the world or to Afghanistan or Pakistan today; it was to bring some clarity to a confused press discourse on the question of a U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and the nature of the July, 2011 "withdrawal commencement" date.
Did you know? The Most Popular Institution In Afghanistan is the Afghan army ... which is seen as much less corrupt than Afghan police forces and the central government.
Basically: In July 2011, the U.S. will begin to withdraw troops. The slope of the withdrawal will depend on the conditions on the ground. And/but: the U.S. will not abandon Afghanistan. (Cross reference: then-CIA director Robert Gates lamenting the U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan in 1989) ... But the U.S. support for Afghanistan will not necessarily (or primarily) consist of U.S. combat brigades. Instead, it'll consist of continued financial support -- $$$ -- and counterterrorism assistance and equipment for the Afghan military and diplomatic interventions -- just not significant presences of U.S. troops.
1. It's not a deadline, says Defense Sec. Robert Gates. "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."
Responding to the criticism from John McCain and others that the U.S. is telegraphing a strategy for the enemy, Gates:
"The reality is the Taliban read the newspapers. Okay. They know what popular opinion is in Europe. They know what popular opinion is in the United States. Whether you announce a date or not, they can tell as easily from reading the news media about political support for these kinds of undertakings themselves and they always believe that they can outlast us. The reality is tough, what are they going to do? Are they going to get more aggressive than they already are? We don't think they can. If they lie low, that great news for us because it gives us some huge opportunities in Afghanistan. We think that we have the opportunity to engage these guys with the additional force we're sending in, make a significant difference in 18 months, get enough additional Afghan troops and police trained that we can begin this gradual process of transitioning security."
2. On the Pakistani nuclear issue, says Gates: "Well I think I'll just leave it that based on information available to us we're comfortable." Translation: we know where the nukes are, and we're going to seize them if anything destabilizing happens, even though we'll never admit this, and even though Pakistan's military doesn't think we know.
3. Clinton, on Meet the Press:"What we're talking about is an assessment that in [July] 2011, we can begin a transition ... to hand off responsibility to the Afghan forces. That is what eventually happened in Iraq. You know, we're gonna be out of Iraq. We have a firm deadline, because the Iraqis believe that they can assume and will assume responsibility for their own future. We want the Afghans to feel the same sense of urgency. We want them to actually make good on what President Karzai said in his inaugural speech, which is that by five years from now they'll have total control for their defense."
From This Week, Sen. Russ Feingold on President Obama's logic: "Well, Pakistan, in the border region near Afghanistan, is perhaps the epicenter, although Al Qaeda is operating all over the world, in Yemen, in Somalia, in northern Africa, affiliates in Southeast Asia. Why would we build up 100,000 or more troops in parts of Afghanistan included that are not even near the border? You know, this buildup is in Helmand Province. That's not next door to Waziristan. So I'm wondering, what exactly is this strategy, given the fact that we have seen that there is a minimal presence of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, but a significant presence in Pakistan? It just defies common sense that a huge boots on the ground presence in a place where these people are not is the right strategy. It doesn't make any sense to me."
Foot note: Feingold acknowledges that it'll be tough to stop the escalation.
4. Where's OBL? Gates tells George S. that the U.S. hasn't had good intel on him in years, and NSA Jim Jones tells John King that he's probably "somewhere in North Waziristan, sometimes on the Pakistani side of the border, sometimes on the Afghan side of the border."
5. Quick takes: Betsy Fischer (@betsymtp) tweets Thomas Friedman's one criteria for success: "There is simply 1 indicator of success: a critical mass of Afghans willing to stand up & fight for their own gov't." ... Note to press (via @afpakhannel) Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network aren't Al Qaeda...they're Taliban.....the official DoD twitter account highlighted this: "Sec Gates on Face the Nation: We are not going to abandon Afghanistan like we did in 1989, but the nature of the relationship will change."