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Obama gives troops to Republicans, empty promises to Democrats

As soon as President Obama had rolled out his plan for an Afghan troop surge on Tuesday night, his top deputies headed to Congress to sell the administration’s new plan. While they faced criticism from the right and the left, their answers clearly did more to assuage Republican’s fears about the new strategy. The first ...

As soon as President Obama had rolled out his plan for an Afghan troop surge on Tuesday night, his top deputies headed to Congress to sell the administration’s new plan. While they faced criticism from the right and the left, their answers clearly did more to assuage Republican’s fears about the new strategy.

The first battleground was Obama’s announcement of a July 2011 target date to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, described this a "reasonable way to produce the sense of urgency in the Afghan government" — however, under questioning from conservative members of the committee, the administration principals quickly hedged. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that he has "adamantly opposed deadlines," and that the president "always has the option to adjust his decisions." In response to a question from Senator McCain, Gates stated that the military would review their progress in Dec. 2010 to decide whether the timeline for withdrawal could be met.

In other words, conservatives are getting their Afghan "surge" — beginning in a few weeks, according to Gates, and continuing through the summer — while liberals get assurances that the U.S. will begin to draw down its troop strength in Afghanistan in 2011 … unless, of course, Obama changes his mind. Democrats appeared wise to the fact that they were getting the short of Obama’s attempted triangulation: Sen. Robert Menendez declared that he believed Obama’s dates "are as solid as quicksand."

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