We are shocked—shocked!—about Obama and Afghanistan, plus: Ghandi!

Evidence mounts that life is directed by Christopher Nolan. The New York Times is among a number of sources addressing the Obama administration’s supposedly recent decision to distance themselves from the lame duck president’s 2011 deadline to make plans to talk about a potential timeline for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. Here’s Elisabeth Bumiller.

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

Obama first mentioned the 2011 “deadline” in a December, 2009 speech at West Point, and he reiterated it with a drive-by reference in his 2010 State of the Union address. But the deadline was neither a deadline nor a commitment, hedged as it was by the inevitable bow to “conditions on the ground,” and in the event that anyone misunderstood, which many people did, a parade of administration officials and military types have been not at all subtly walking back the imaginary deadline since War Department honcho Bob Gates kicked off the festivities in January of 2010.

I think that the most important thing to understand is that July 2011 is the beginning of a process. It is similar to the process that we used in Iraq, where we would turn over a given province or district to provincial Iraqi control when their forces had reached a level of capability to be able to deal with that, and also when the threat had been reduced significantly. That is the same process we will use in Afghanistan.

And what the president has said is, he expects that we will be in a position to begin turning over certain districts and provinces in Afghanistan to provincial or district Afghan control beginning in July of 2011. There is no end date on that. And the — and the turnover of control to the Afghans will be based on conditions on the ground.

And so we don’t — we don’t want to have to refight for territory we’ve already had to fight for once. And so we want to make sure, when it’s turned over to the Afghans, it stays in Afghan hands.

But this is a gradual process, and there will soon be 100,000 American troops and 50,000 troops from 43 other countries around the world in Afghanistan. No one should expect to see them all start to head for the exits on — in July of 2011. There will be a substantial presence, in my view, well beyond that period of time.

Although Gates went into a bit more expectation-lowering detail, no one who heard or read the Obama speech should have had any illusions about the fate of the “deadline.” In fact, no one who has been conscious in America for any length of time during the past 60 or so years should have had any illusions about it whether they heard the speech or no.

As other administration and military officials refined what Gates said and what Obama had intimated from the beginning, the “deadline” advanced ever farther along the path to obsolescence. Most recently, and most entertainingly, we learned in September of this year that the deadline no longer has anything remotely to do with reducing the number of US troops in the country.

President Barack Obama’s July 2011 timeline and guidance from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, Mulholland explained, represents the date in which leaders and policy makers will begin to discuss transition.

“I don’t see any kind of drastic drawdowns forthcoming in the next few years,” [Army Col. Sean] Mulholland said. “It’s going to have to be a timed, phased withdrawal, obviously taking security into account.”

So, what the Times is now reporting as news is simply a somewhat louder recitation of the chorus that everyone from the president on down have been singing since the moment the “deadline” was announced. It was already official, but now that the Times has noticed, it’s really official.


Turning our attention once again to the New York Times

When [Obama] accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, even as he was conducting two wars, he described himself as “living testimony to the moral force” of the nonviolent movement embodied by Dr. King and Gandhi.

“But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation,” he continued, “I cannot be guided by their examples alone.”

That paradox was on vivid display on Saturday when Mr. Obama arrived in Mumbai, an event carried live on national television, celebrating Gandhi’s legacy but also selling military transport planes and bringing along 200 American business leaders.

Why does admiration look so much like contempt?