The more profound consequence of choosing the Biden option, however, would be to repudiate what is working in Afghanistan. The troops are already pissed off at the anti-McChrystal hyperbole, and limiting our footprint for more drones amounts to a public discounting of the American armed forces’ tremendous effort in recent years to transform into an effective instrument of “small wars” counterinsurgency — especially the Army and Marines. Again, by extension, such a decision would tarnish Gates’s legacy-in-the-making as bureaucratic godfather to this stunning institutional evolution. I mean, if this was a capacity our military lacked going into Afghanistan and Iraq, only to subsequently develop it under extreme duress, will it be the decision of the Obama administration to immediately shelve our hard-earned capability in a “war of necessity” just because Joe Biden said so?

Worse yet, the world will interpret any “half measures” (John McCain’s fighting words) as a signal toward our inevitable withdrawal (watch for the phrase “exit strategy”). And once that happens, world leaders — friend or foe — will immediately start interpreting any statements by Obama that threaten to use force as, you know, threatening to pin-prick with fancy robotic bombers. Waffling, in other words, doesn’t answer that Pentagon-wide concern.