By all indications, General David Petraeus is expected to be swiftly confirmed as General Stanley McChrystal's replacement, and will soon be in command of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. This isn't to say that there aren't substantive questions that could be asked of Petraeus today -- there are. And that doesn't mean that senators won't use this window of opportunity to drill down on one important aspect of the conflict: the July 2011 drawdown date.
The administration has, over the past year, made it pretty clear that if a withdrawal of any sort is to occur in July of 2011, it we will be "conditions based." But this was thrown into confusion after the release of Jonathan Alter's latest White House gossip-tome, "The Promise", which quoted Vice President Joe Biden as saying, "In July of 2011, you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out, bet on it."
Naturally, one person who is going to make a big deal of this today is Senator John McCain, who went on "Meet The Press" this past weekend, to make this specific demand.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Let's have the President of the United States stand up and say, "It's conditions based. We will not withdraw a single troop unless we think it's necessary to do so. And we may even add troops if we think it's necessary to do so." Let's hear that. That sends a message to our friends and-- and enemies alike. And I guarantee you it would have a significant impact on our enemies and friends alike.
Well, okay! This morning, General Petraeus, said exactly that:
PETRAEUS: I specifically agreed with the messages of greater commitment and greater urgency that the President expressed in his address at West Point in December, when he announced the new policy. As you'll recall, the greater commitment was explained in terms of the additional 30,000 U.S. forces, the tripling of the number of U.S. civilians, and the funding for an additional 100,000 Afghan security force members. The greater urgency was highlighted by the President's announcing the intent to begin a process in July 2011, of transitioning tasks to Afghan forces and officials, and beginning what the President termed a responsible drawdown of the U.S. surge forces, with the pace of both the tranisition of tasks and the drawdown of to be based on conditions of the ground.
Petraeus went on to reiterate that the July 2011 date will not be a moment when U.S. forces "head for the exit and turn out the lights," as U.S. assistance will be required in Afghanistan for "a number of years" before Afghan security forces can assume control of the mission.