Wasn’t it just last week that we were told that 34,000 was the magic number, replete with a confidence-boosting report from NBC News that McChrystal himself was satisfied with that amount? Now, suddenly, more than 10 percent of the force has been shaved off (the Times is hearing 30,000 too) and yet not a word is breathed here about the downward revision. On the contrary, we’re informed that the number could change again in the next 24 hours, meaning The One’s dithering would have stretched practically to the very last minute. Is the media simply so weary of fluid numbers from the White House — e.g., jobs saved or created, Americans without health insurance — that they’ve given up trying to follow the bouncing ball?

Leslie Gelb, the former head of CFR, claims he’s heard that Obama will reserve the right to send another 10,000 troops (but no more) next year if circumstances warrant. That strikes me as unlikely given the left’s paranoia about a protracted Vietnam-esque build-up — better to send the full force now and say no mas — but maybe The One’s using it as a bluff to placate hawks for the time being. Conservatives are his base on this issue, after all, and they’re more likely to accept a smaller force now if they think he has several thousand more troops ready to deploy later — even if, in reality, he has no intention of actually using those troops. Something to watch for tomorrow night.

If he does send a smaller force now, presumably that means he’s planning to dramatically expand Afghan forces to pick up the slack, right? Why, er, no:

But the administration seems prepared to reject another of Gen. McChrystal’s top priorities: his call to double the size of the Afghan police and army over the next few years.

The administration now favors an alternative plan that would seek to build a larger Afghan security force, but one that would be considerably smaller than what Gen. McChrystal had wanted, these people said. The president is likely to talk about Afghan troops Tuesday, without specifying a growth target for expanding their ranks.

“The president has a realistic view of how successful the training regimen can be, and that has helped inform his decision,” a senior administration official said Sunday.

Placing less emphasis on Afghan forces risks irking Democrats leery about an extended and expensive escalation.

Link via Bill Roggio, who wonders who, precisely, will be defending Afghanistan if it’s neither us nor the Afghans themselves. A suggestion from Hitchens: How about India? Expanding Indian influence inside the country would confront the jihadis with a powerful, westernized enemy capable of maintaining the sort of long-term presence that we can’t muster. The obvious problem? Facing Indian pressure on two borders instead of one will freak Pakistan out and inevitably lead to an anti-Indian alliance with the Taliban. Not sure what Hitch has in mind there by way of endgame, aside from another Indo-Pakistani war (proxy or otherwise).

Here’s the clip from NBC; only the first minute is necessary viewing. Exit quotation from veteran war reporter Tom Ricks, passing on advice from a friend: “If he uses the phrase ‘exit strategy,’ or dwells on the subject, then you’ll know you’re probably looking at a one-term president.”

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