President Obama says July 2011 is the starting point for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and that the starting point is not changeable. But Gen. David Petraeus says he might advise changing it. Why aren’t President Obama and his top military man in Afghanistan on the same page, after all this time and discussion?
Oh, wait a minute, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton says they ARE on the same page. Here’s an exchange from the gaggle aboard Air Force One today.
Q Can I ask you about Petraeus? He said yesterday on “Meet the Press” that he might recommend next year that the President slow down his — not begin the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
MR. BURTON: I looked at that, and I think that that is a very thinly sliced parsing of what he had to say. He said very specifically that that deadline stands and there is no daylight between the President or his commanders on the ground when it comes to July 2011. As you saw with Iraq, when the President makes a commitment he keeps it. And he intends to do that here as well. Obviously the scope and rate of withdrawal will be conditions-based, but the date is not negotiable.
Well, the parsing slice seems rather thick and robust to me. Here’s the item from the Meet the Press transcript.
MR. GREGORY: I just want to clarify this. Did—could you reach that point and say, “I know that the process is supposed to begin, but my assessment as the commander here is that it cannot begin now”?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Certainly, yeah. Again, the president and I sat down in the Oval Office, and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice where I understand the mission that’s been assigned, we have recommended the strategy and the resources that are required for that strategy, and as there are changes in any of that, that, obviously, I would communicate that to him, recognizing that he has some issues with which he has to deal that we don’t have to worry about.
I guess it all depends on the meaning of “certainly, yeah.” The word “certainly” means, like, “definitely” or “absolutely,” or, “you bet your ass.” The term “yeah” is informal for “yes.” And yes means yes. Now back to the gaggle.
Q So you’re saying that no matter what Petraeus says, might say next year, the President is going to begin a drawdown?
MR. BURTON: I can tell you about a lot of things, but I can’t say what Petraeus might say next year. The date is the date.
Well, the point isn’t what Gen. Petraeus will say next year. The point is, why does he think today, right now, that he could recommend changing the date?
It means he thinks the date is changeable.
And it means he and Obama are not on the same page.