"The president does not see this as an open ended engagement," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. "Our time there will be limited. And I think that is important for people to understand." ...
... [Gibbs] said that [Obama's] review of U.S. Afghanistan policy has focused heavily on finding a way to eventually bring an end to the U.S. military commitment.
"Throughout this process the president has repeatedly pushed and prodded not simply for how are we going to get a certain number of troops in, but what is the strategy, what has to be implemented ultimately to get them out," Gibbs said.
Obama: Okay, let's not dither anymore. I'll approve 30,000 troops if you can tell me what the strategy is to get them out.
Official No. 1: Win the war.
Obama: Hmmm. [Puts his open palms together and brings his two index figures to his lips.] I don't like the word "win." It's too close to "victory." I would rather say "bring the war to a successful conclusion" -- by which I mean get the troops out. How would I do that?
Official No. 2: Prevail in the war.
Obama: "Prevail." That's another word I don't like. Too close to "win" and "victory." Isn't there another term we can use?
Official No. 3: Transition to the Afghans?
Obama: Okay, there you go! Now, when can we do that?
Official No. 1: After we win the war.
Official No. 2: After we prevail in the war.
Official No. 3: Maybe we can start transitioning sometime by 2011, assuming we're winning or prevailing by then.
Obama: Let me prod and push you there. When exactly in 2011?
Official No. 1: Can I just jump in here, Mr. President, since you've never managed a war before? It is not a good idea to set a date.
Official No. 2: He's right, Mr. President. If you set a date, you won't be winning or prevailing by then, because the Taliban and al-Qaeda will know they just have to keep fighting until you start leaving when you said you would start leaving.
Obama: I understand that, but I have to give people a sense that this is not going to be a long war. I have to tell them when the war will start receding, like I did with the oceans.
Official No. 3: When would you like it to be, Mr. President? It's really up to you.
Obama: How about July 2011? Can we start cutting and run -- I mean transitioning by then? That way, I could give a speech about bearing any burden, opposing any foe, yada, yada, yada, but still make sure it's within a reasonable time frame at a reasonable cost with a reasonable exit strategy. Can we do that?
Official No. 3: Yes we can! I mean, I don't think we can say for sure, but I really don't see how anyone could expect you to bear any burden or oppose any foe for more than eighteen months.
Obama: Right -- more than eighteen months is way above my pay grade. But how can we phrase it so it sounds good?
Official No. 3: Maybe we could say that you will fight until we prevail, or until July 2011, whichever comes first. That way, if you prevail -- great. If you don't, you start transitioning to the Afghans, having given them plenty of notice that you're going to cut and transition.
Obama: Perfect. I think we have a plan. My speech will mark the day (plus eighteen months) when the waters of war started receding. This is just like health care: you just set a date. Unless you set a date, nothing gets done.