WASHINGTON -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted on Monday that costs would not be a factor in determining the pace of the forthcoming withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Addressing the topic at a time when deficit reduction hysteria is compelling many lawmakers to push for a drawdown of U.S. military commitments overseas, Carney reiterated the administration's line: national security concerns have a flexible price tag.
"On the president's Af-Pak decision, is cost in any way a factor in how many troops are brought home next month, or the initial drawdown? Will it possibly impact that at all?" a White House reporter asked.
"No," said Carney, "as I said before, in response to a question regarding a story about this, obviously as enormously powerful and wealthy we are as a country we have limited resources and we have to make decisions. The president has to make decisions about priorities."
"Having said that, his policy decision that he made in December of 2009 had, as its objectives: disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan so it would not become a haven for terrorists as it had been in the past," Carney continued. "Those are the objectives, and the decision he made and will make going forward will be based on the success in fulfilling those objectives and the conditions on the ground as he makes those decisions."
Carney's answer, another administration official noted, is far from a massive deviation from the president's long-stated position about the underlying factors that will go into his withdrawal strategy -- if it is a deviation at all. And it surely would be difficult (politically, at least) for the White House to say that they won't undertake certain national security or foreign policy functions because the price is too high.
That said, the mere fact that the question was posed during a White House briefing is significant in its own right. The media has generally shunned the topic of the war's costs, despite the fact that the U.S. is spending roughly $6 billion a month in Afghanistan alone. But the frenzy of the debt and deficit reduction debate has changed the discussion both for Republican lawmakers -- who have begun to question the literal worth of keeping U.S. forces overseas -- and for the press, which, if nothing more, follows frictions between and within the two parties dutifully.