Yesterday a source close to Secretary of Defense Gates told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that Gates didn't get so much as a heads up from Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel before Emanuel went on CNN to declare that "it would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country." Now Gates pushes back himself in a briefing with reporters aboard his plane en route to Tokyo:
Questions about the legitimacy of Afghanistan's national elections are a complicating factor, but President Barack Obama's strategic review doesn't hinge on the outcome, and ongoing military operations aren't being affected, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
The Afghan election issue has "complicated the situation for us," Gates said, but he said he doesn't expect it to delay Obama's decision on the larger issue of charting the way forward in Afghanistan.
"My view is that whatever emerges in Kabul is going to be an evolutionary process," Gates told reporters traveling with him through Asia en route to a NATO ministerial in Slovenia. "I think we are going to have to work with this, going forward, and the president is going to have to make his decisions within the context of that evolutionary process." ...
"Even though the president has further significant decisions in front of him, we already have 68,000 American troops on the ground in Afghanistan and almost 40,000 troops from other countries," Gates said.
These troops "are not all just staying in their tents while we wait the outcome of the elections," he said. "We are not going to just sit on our hands waiting for the outcome of this election and for the emergence of a government in Kabul. We have operations under way and we will continue to conduct those operations.
Major rifts are opening up inside the administration as President Obama stalls his own commander's urgent request for additional forces. First McChrystal's assessment was leaked, putting the administration at odds with the military. Petraeus, Mullen, McChrystal on one side and Biden on the other. Now Emanuel and Axelrod come out and defend the delay, Gates responds by saying U.S. troops aren't going to be twiddling their thumbs while Rahm and Axe try and figure out which way the wind is blowing. In the absence of strong leadership, factions inevitably emerge.