Obama's Muddled Afghan Obsession; Administration Sends Conflicting Messages on Troop Levels

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Confusion reigns over the administration's Afghanistan policy, particularly regarding the timetable for withdrawal of American forces. There has been a lot of obsession about the issue, President Obama explained over the weekend. If people are preoccupied with the topic, the president only has himself to blame.

Mr. Obama kicked off a series of ambiguous messages when he told the nation on Dec. 1 that his surge strategy would allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates explained in congressional testimony the next day, if it appears that the strategy's not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011, then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself. We're not just going to throw these [Afghans] into the swimming pool and walk away. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added, I do not believe we have locked ourselves into leaving, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, the July 2011 date is a day we start transitioning, transferring responsibility and transitioning. It's not a date that we're leaving.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs acted quickly to bring the statements back into line. Let me be clear, because the president was clear, he said on Dec. 2. Our forces, in July of 2011, will transition out of Afghanistan. Six months later, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter that July 2011 was a hard deadline for major troop movements. In July of 2011, you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out, he said. Bet on it. That would not be a smart bet. In Senate testimony two weeks ago, Gen. David H. Petraeus, in his role at the time as Central Command commander, said that it is important that July 2011 be seen for what it is: the date when a process begins, based on conditions - not the date when the U. …