Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama channels Gates to defend timeline

There may be a bit of Gates-think -- or at least, Gates-speak -- in Obama's response to the chief Republican line of attack on his AfPak strategy, as reported in the WSJ:
The American military has long resisted hard and public timetables for ending military missions, on the assumption that a deadline merely lets the bad guys know how long they have to wait out American troops before moving in. That precise criticism was immediately heard from Republicans.

Mr. Obama, in a lunch at the White House with a few columnists hours before he delivered his nationally televised speech on Afghanistan policy, countered that in this case the deadline for an American withdrawal is crucial to create leverage on Mr. Karzai to move with real urgency to improve his government and its security forces so they can take over the task of fighting the Taliban.

"That's exactly why we thought a timetable was so important," Mr. Obama said. "Because in the absence of a time frame, if the view in Afghanistan is this is an open-ended commitment or an indefinite commitment, then I think we have very little leverage" over the Afghan leader.
In April 2007,  when Republicans partisans were crying treason at Democrats seeking to impose a timetable on U.S. troop presence in Iraq, Gates famously said,  “Demands in the U.S. Congress for a timeline to withdraw American troops from Iraq are constructive because they exert pressure on Iraq’s leaders to forge compromises.” He added: “The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact . . . in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment.”

Obama, as it happened, seized on this perspective from Gates in a press release:
“After the President has repeatedly ignored the will of Congress and the American people, his own Secretary of Defense now recognizes that the only way to pressure the Iraqi government toward a political settlement is to make clear that American troops will not be in Iraq forever.
The cross-fertilization in the thinking of Gates and Obama has been going on for quite some time.

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