The extent to which President Obama will receive Democrat support for escalating military forces in Afghanistan seems directly tied to his insistence that a timeline be put on the deployment of those forces.
But on Sunday, one of the most highly respected Democratic voices on matters of defense threw cold water on the idea of applying a timeline to an increase in U.S. military personnel.
Senate Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, told Meet the Press that he did not think, "[The U.S.] can put a deadline" on America's military presence in Afghanistan. Instead, he insisted, there "should be milestones for success."
"I don't think we know enough about how these events are gonna unfold-- for there to be a deadline," Levin said. "But the mistake going back to that last question I believe that was made in Afghanistan was taking our eye off that ball. Not going after bin Laden when we had him where we wanted him. And the-- instead putting-- shifting our major focus to Iraq. I think that was the major mistake that was made. But now I think it would be a mistake for us to do anything other than to look for ways to succeed in Afghanistan. And there's a legitimate debate going on as to how do we succeed in Afghanistan. And that's what we ought to focus on. Setting a timeline, I don't think would be the right thing."
The comments are bound to be poorly received by those Democrats and progressives who already are fretting over sending 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. But they appear to be an emerging mindset of the administration. While Obama himself said back in March that "there's got to be an exit strategy" for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, just several weeks ago his Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the "notion of times and exit strategies" a "strategic mistake."