Obama’s Afghanistan Deadline Under Attack

Either Obama's Defense Secretary and commanding general are conspiring to undermine his July 11 deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan or that they're carrying out his intent.

General David Petraeus, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, is making the media rounds to build the case for the war and, seemingly, to undermine his Commander-in-Chief’s July 2011 timeline to begin withdrawal of forces.

My New Atlanticist piece on the matter, “Petreaus’ Afghanistan Media Tour” rounds up the general’s statements to “Meet The Press,” the New York Times, and the Washington Post and observes,

Two possibilities obtain here.   First, President Obama has been persuaded that his July 2011 deadline sends the wrong strategic message and is using Petraeus as a stalking horse to change the policy, presumably to leverage the general’s reputation.   Second, Petraeus is undermining his commander-in-chief,  daring the president to relieve a third straight ISAF commander — this one arguably the most prestigious American military figure since World War II.

But, while my strong initial inclination was the latter, it’s now the former.

AAP’s Andrew Gully notes the inconsistencies between Petraeus’ pronouncements over the weekend and what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been saying in recent weeks.  But those differences are nuanced, indeed.  As reported in today’s Los Angeles Times, Gates is engaged in precisely the same round of cheerleading for the war efforts as the ISAF chief.

So, one either has to believe that Obama’s Defense Secretary and commanding general are conspiring to undermine him or that they’re carrying out his intent.  I choose to believe the latter.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Since we both know that the July 2011 deadline is only the beginning of when withdrawal would start, I tend to think there’s less here than meets the eye

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    I find it very difficult to believe Obama has any desire to stay in Afghanistan for a moment longer than he has to. Not least because people like you are going to ignore all that went before and start blaming him for this train wreck. Our only other serious allies, the Brits can’t wait to get out regardless of all the bromides. Faced with the alternatives you posit I actually lean to believing the former. The military have never wanted to get out and persuaded the admin to put in some more troops so they could prove they could make it work. It ain’t working as must be obvious to a ten year old and certainly is to a growing majority of Americans who are firm for adherence to the drawdown date. So Obama is likely to call in his markers. Of course Doug may be right and none of it amounts to much.

  3. ponce says:

    Nobody is asking for more troops, are they?

  4. Tano says:

    I agree with Doug on this one. Obama has been mining this nuance all along. Its a firm deadline (pleasing those who demand one) for beginning a withdrawal (at a pace to be determined later).

    The President himself has emphasized the different sides of this, at various times. I don’t see anything new here.

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    Sounds like the goal is to create some confusion, buy cover for the president, and keep his options open.