Well, someone’s confused. Four days ago, Barack Obama said that July 2011 was “locked in” as the withdrawal date for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells CBS that “there is no deadline,” and that the 18-month date is when Americans will start transferring security responsibilities to the Afghans — and then only when they can handle it. Maybe the Commander in Chief needs to get some clarity on what has become a complete muddle:

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday that President Obama’s 18-month time frame to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan “isn’t a deadline” during an interview for “Face the Nation.”

“Mr. Secretary, is there a deadline or is there not?” CBS News Senior Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer asked Gates.

“There isn’t a deadline,” Gates said. “What we have is a specific date which we will begin transferring responsibility for security district by district, province by province in Afghanistan to the Afghans.”

It appears that President Obama spent the better part of four months vacillating on policy, only to have reached a conclusion that what he needed was … more vacillation. One has to hope that Gates has this right and everyone else wrong, but that seems rather unlikely. It sounds more like Gates is playing to the conservatives, Obama is playing to the Left, and Hillary isn’t sure what which side she’s supposed to be courting. As politics, it’s particularly inept, and as war management, it’s worse.

Tags: Barack Obama