Gen. David Petraeus's admission that a U.S. victory in Afghanistan is not a "sure thing" by 2014 is the latest indication that the Obama administration has no hard deadline whatsoever for ending what is already the nation's longest war.
Petraeus told ABC News of the 2014 target date: "No commander ever is going to come out and say, 'I'm confident that we can do this.' I think that you say that you assess that this is -- you believe this is, you know, a reasonable prospect and knowing how important it is -- that we have to do everything we can to increase the chances of that prospect.... But again, I don't think there are any sure things in this kind of endeavor. And I wouldn't be honest with you and with the viewers if I didn't convey that."
Petraeus's comment comes even as support for the war continues to decline in both the U.S. and Afghanistan -- and as leaked State Department cables expose how deeply corrupt and unreliable a partner the U.S. has in the central Afghan government.
In December 2009, President Obama promised to begin bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan in July 2011.
But over time, it became increasingly clear that any withdrawal in 2011 would be token at best. And by July of 2010, both the Afghan and U.S. governments were talking about a timeline that extended to 2014 instead.
Petraeus's comments signify that 2014 is not, in fact, the new end date for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It's the new best-case scenario. And Afghanistan is not a country of best-case scenarios. Quite the contrary.
The latest Pentagon report to Congress, for example, acknowledges only "uneven progress" around the country. On the central issue of corruption, "progress remains uneven and incremental;" "significant challenges remain" with the Afghan National Army; and "progress is slow" both in terms of providing security and advancing the rule of law.
A new poll shows fewer Afghans than ever support a U.S. presence in the country or believe the U.S. makes their country any safer.
Nevertheless, Obama continues to stress the positive. In a speech to troops at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan last week, Obama declared, "[T]hanks to your service, we are making important progress. You are protecting your country. You're achieving your objectives. You will succeed in your mission." He continued:
We said we were going to break the Taliban's momentum, and that's what you're doing. You're going on the offense, tired of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds. Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future.
We said a year ago that we're going to build the capacity of the Afghan people. And that's what you're doing, meeting our recruitment targets, training Afghan forces, partnering with those Afghans who want to build a stronger and more stable and more prosperous Afghanistan.
Where is he coming up with this stuff?
Well, Petraeus told ABC that the Pentagon report did not account for some of the coalition's latest successes west of Kandahar City, in central Helmand, and Kabul province. We'll know more about what Obama is basing his statements on when the White House finishes up its latest review of strategy and policy in Afghanistan, expected some time next week.