Could Gates Block Withdrawal From Afghanistan?

 Robert Gates

Photo: Robert Gates accepts nomination as Defense Secretary-11/08/06 

So the troops are coming home from Afghanistan?   That’s what Mr. Obama said.  I heard it.  Starting 18 months from now he will begin bringing our people home.  He gave no date for the withdrawal to be completed, but at least it’s a  beginning to the end of a military operation George W. started but failed to stop.   Or is it?  What’s really going on here?  Is there an exit strategy or is it nothing more than wishful thinking?

Mr. Obama, made it sound like his plans were laid but less than 24 hours later his Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, told a Senate committee that the situation would be re-assessed in December of 2010.  The implication being that the whole thing could be changed from that point on.

Then there was Secretary of State Clinton telling Brian Williams on NBC, that the decision will be “conditions based.”

Beyond that, consider the words of National Security Advisor Jim Jones, during an interview with Major Garrett on Fox News:  “This isn’t a cliff where everybody all of a sudden says ‘That’s it, it’s over.’ What is at stake here, in terms of the conditions, is how quickly we can do it. If things are going very well, we can do it more rapidly, if things need a little bit more attention, we can do it more slowly. But it is the point at which there will be a beginning to a different phase in our involvement in Afghanistan. And it’s not to say to your viewers, but more importantly to the people of the region, the United States is leaving. We are not leaving the region. We have enormous strategic interest in Afghanistan, east of Afghanistan in Pakistan and we intend to be supportive and helpful partners with them for many years to come.”

“We are not leaving the region?”  “Many years to come?”  And that means what, exactly?  It means we will begin drawing down our troop levels in 2011, unless we don’t.     Has a hint of the old Karl Rovian magic to it, doesn’t it?  Mr.Obama might as well have announced that the withdrawal date is a goal,  but that we might have to stay right where we are “for many years to come” based upon an updated assessment of the conditions.   That, of course, wouldn’t have had the same impact as his announcement that he will start bringing the troops home in 18 months.

It’s being reported that the President had to agree to making the withdrawal “conditions based” to get Bush Administration holdover and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on board.   According to his defense department bio:  “Dr. Gates is the only Secretary of Defense in U.S. history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly elected President.”   Wonder if there’s a reason for that?  Maybe it’s time to ask Mr. Gates to leave the ship?

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