In hindsight, when I re-read the full quote, McChrystal’s take on the timeline is more ambiguous than I thought. So here’s how my scoreboard looks right now. The One says withdrawal will begin in July 2011 no matter what; Gates says we’re striving hard to have it begin in July 2011 but ultimately it’ll depend on conditions circa December 2010; and McChrystal’s read on it is TBD. That leaves Hillary, who I think is in the Gates camp — but frankly, at this point, I’m not sure they’re being consistent even in their own statements. Halfway through she says Obama wants to see the handover to Afghans begin in 2011 but that “It needs to be done in a responsible way that is conditions-based.” Then, at the very end, as she discusses the surge in various resources to Afghanistan, “All of that will enable us to make the goal of 2011 a real target for us to aim at.” If it’s merely a goal they’re shooting for, then it isn’t “locked in” per The One’s command. If it is locked in, then conditions may affect the number of troops that are withdrawn initially but it’ll have to be some number of troops — and given the left’s expectations, that number can’t be wholly insignificant. Which is it? And how come the Smart Power brigade couldn’t hammer out this rather critical talking point when they had three months to do it?

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Tags: Barack Obama