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Afghanistan: No Exit

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In my last post on President Obama's Afghan escalation speech I noted, "Anyone who believes (the troops) will leave in eighteen months is a fool." I also referenced "a quote buried in the seventeenth paragraph of the Page One New York Times report on Obama's speech." The remarks were by under secretary of defense Michele A. Flournoy, who said, "The pace, the nature, and the duration of that transition are to be determined down the road by the president [italics mine] based on conditions on the ground."

Flournoy's remarks were then amplified by a phalanx of other high Administration officials, who provided further evidence that the peace-prize-president - while outwardly engaging in his usual "enigmatic and epigrammatic split-the-baby-in-half Yoda/Spock-speak" - was actually proposing to wage war more intensely -- and not only for eighteen months, after which we all get to go home. The net effect, as the Times phrased it, was to send "a forceful public message... that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan for a long time."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, for example, said in an interview on ABC's This Week broadcast that perhaps "only a handful" of American troops will leave Afghanistan in July 2011, the date Obama set to begin his supposed "withdrawal." Fearing he was being too opaque Gates added, "We will have 100,000 forces, troops there, and they are not leaving in July of 2011." Instead, Gates said, we can only expect that "Some handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time." In case he still wasn't being clear, Gates concluded, "I don't consider this an exit strategy."

For his part, national security adviser James L. Jones observed, "2011 is not a cliff, it's a ramp." Speaking on CNN's State of the Union, Jones noted, "We're going to be in the region for a long time."

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, General David Petraeus added that the Obama administration was not planning a "rush to the exits" in Afghanistan, and that depending on the security conditions there could be tens of thousands of American troops in Afghanistan for several years.

"We're not going to be walking away from Afghanistan again," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"We're not talking about an abrupt withdrawal," Secretary Gates continued. "We're talking about that something that will take place over a period of time."

Got that? Now, let's recap the 'withdrawal' planned for eighteen months from now. It is:

• "To be determined down the road"
• "The beginning, not the end, of Afghan withdrawal"
• "Troops there ... are not leaving in July of 2011."
• "Some handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time."
• "Don't consider this an exit strategy."
• "2011 is not a cliff, it's a ramp."
• "We're going to be in the region for a long time."
• "We're not going to be walking away from Afghanistan again."
• "We're not talking about an abrupt withdrawal, we're talking about that something that will take place over a period of time."
• "There could be tens of thousands of American troops in Afghanistan for several years."

Oh yes -- and don't forget one more "can we all get along," something-for-everyone, good-news-bad-news, back-and-forth, give-and-take, get-in-to-get-out, speed-up-to-slow-down, let's-all-come-together-and-get-along-to-go-along-to-end-the-war item, courtesy of Obama's Republican Defense Secretary: "We'll have an increase in casualties at the front end of this process... but over time it'll actually lead to fewer casualties."

After all, it's good-news-bad-news time again!