The Blog

Jones "Tees Up"...and Whiffs

2:43 PM, Dec 6, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Furthermore, the process also seems to have left all the principals confused as to how the president understood his own July 2011 withdrawal date. When Gates went to the Hill last week to explain the president's strategy to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he was pressed on the July 2011 date, which Gates described as "a clear statement of [the president's] strong intent" to begin drawing down forces, but not a date certain. Today on Face the Nation, Gates stuck with his position that the 2011 date was aspirational -- "There isn't a deadline...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."

Yet Robert Gibbs, who has an awfully close relationship with and proximity to the president, had no idea what the date meant when he was pressed by reporters earlier this week:

It was a point of contention at the White House briefing today - I asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs if senators were incorrect calling the date a "target."

After the briefing, Gibbs went to the president for clarification. Gibbs then called me to his office to relate what the president said. The president told him it IS locked in - there is no flexibility. Troops WILL start coming home in July 2011. Period. It's etched in stone. Gibbs said he even had the chisel.

Yet Gates is still out there saying it's not a deadline. And how could Gibbs be unprepared for the most obvious question a reporter could ask the day after the speech, i.e. how firm is that date? The principals weren't on the same page about who we were fighting, now they're not on the same page about when, or if, we are leaving. And this is the process that the New York Times calls a "a case study in decision making in the Obama White House."

Back in February, Jones told the Post,

Some principals will be regulars at the NSC "just by force of issues," he said, and "you can't just designate the whole government as being there." But everyone should be kept aware of "what's going on" and given an opportunity to say, 'Wait a minute, I've got something to say here.' "

Did Obama administration officials know "what's going on?" Do they now?