McChrystal: The 2011 timetable isn't set in stone; Obama: Actually, it is

A worrisome contradiction from a press conference in which McChrystal otherwise backed Obama to the hilt. Granted, he’s not about to dump on the C-in-C publicly, especially with morale already lagging, but even a media that’s skeptical of the war and perpetually hungry for Pentagon leaks hasn’t been able to generate any anonymous military critiques of The One’s plan since he announced it. If McChrystal’s pessimistic about the strategy, he’s doing an awfully good job of hiding it:

Asked later if Obama’s pledge of troops was enough, he told reporters: “We’re going to have exactly what we need.”…

Asked if he backed Obama’s announcement that the troops would begin withdrawing in 18 months — a schedule criticized by U.S. Republicans as encouraging insurgents to wait out the clock — McChrystal said: “I am absolutely supportive of the timeline.”

The 18-month timeline … is not absolute. It’s not an 18 months: everybody leaves. The president has expressed on numerous occasions a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan, and that includes all manners of assistance,” McChrystal said…

If the Taliban simply “melt away” for the 18 months, that would provide a window for the Afghan government to demonstrate its effectiveness and turn the tide, he said.

His insistence that he got exactly what he needed by way of troops may be true, notwithstanding the fact that his request was for 40,000. According to Politico, it was Gates who approached Obama in mid-October with the 30,000 figure that eventually prevailed. The fact that it came from the Pentagon and not from the minds of Axelrod and Emanuel lends more strategic credibility to it, unless, of course, Politico’s being lied to for precisely that reason.

As for the timeline, his “aspirational” vision of it squares with Gates’s — but it sure doesn’t square with Obama’s. Just as I’m writing this, CBS is reporting that The One responded tonight to Gates’s ambivalence at this morning’s Senate hearing by declaring that 2011 is “locked in” as the starting date for withdrawal. Er, does McChrystal know that? Watch the clip below from CNN, filmed this morning as he rallied his aides a la Churchill to go forward thinking this isn’t the beginning of the end but rather the end of the beginning. Obama’s speech sure made it sound otherwise, didn’t it? Peter Beinart:

If the [2011] deadline is fake and the surge is real, then we are making a long, costly, painful commitment to counterinsurgency—a commitment that, given the Taliban’s unpopularity on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, could ultimately bring results. But Obama did not lay the groundwork for that commitment. He did not depict the Afghan war as a great and noble cause. There was some passion near the speech’s end—a call for America to uphold our tradition of global leadership, to support freedom and opportunity overseas, to see our security as intertwined with the security of others—but it was utterly disconnected from the Afghan war. As a result, it felt like an add-on, meant to artificially moisten another otherwise dry address.

That’s the problem, really. When it comes to the 9/11 wars, Obama clearly doesn’t think Americans have much more gas in the tank. He may be right, but if that’s true, then it’s naïve to believe this last gasp of exertion will accomplish much. If, on the other hand, Obama is serious about bringing our war in Afghanistan to a “successful conclusion,” and not just a conclusion, he gave the wrong speech. Because Tuesday night’s speech was the opposite of rousing. Its subtext was: Just hang on; this will all be over soon.

True enough — and precisely the opposite of how McChrystal’s spinning it today. What could go wrong? Exit quotation: “This is not a war for conquest. This is not a war for glory. It is a war to give people a chance.”