November 11, 2009

Tongue Lock

Being the White House spokesman isn't an easy job and Octopus Mountain won't pretend so. It must be aggravating to know so little, relatively speaking, and to constantly have to deny, defend, or explain in relative ignorance. It must be especially annoying, as the President’s mouth and keeper of his message, to lose control of that message due to government leaks.

But blaming the American people is the wrong course when times get rough.

Probed on the latest rumors swirling around Afghanistan, Robert Gibbs replied, “The President will have an opportunity to discuss four options with his national security team tomorrow. Anybody that tells you that the President has made a decision or - what was the artfully used term last night, "tentatively agreed to" - doesn't have, in all honesty, the slightest idea what they're talking about. The President has yet to make a decision.”

Gibbs’s remarks must be placed into context because he engages in semantics. Yes, Obama hasn’t formally decided on his troop level, but the range isn’t wide. According to numerous sources, just one of which being the NYT, the options remain at 20,000, 30,000, and 40,000. So while Obama hasn’t decided on this detail, he has decided beyond doubt to escalate the war.

Troop levels won’t vary too much in total, either 88,000, 98,000 or 108,000, and neither will the mission - destroy al-Qaeda (and the Taliban.)

Administration officials cited Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, opponents of a build up, as evidence that no decision as been made. As if Afghanistan will be decided by those two. Reports have consistently pegged Obama at the “McChrystal Lite” strategy of 30,000 troops.

The theory isn’t as baseless as Gibbs’s makes it sound. McChrystal, Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates, and Secretary Clinton all approve, or do they lack “the slightest idea what they’re talking about?” Gibbs rebutted the man he began by quoting, General James Jones, National Security Adviser.

“Reports that President Obama has made a decision about Afghanistan are absolutely false,” Jones said the day before. “He has not received final options for his consideration, he has not reviewed those options with his national security team, and he has not made any decisions about resources. Any reports to the contrary are completely untrue and come from uninformed sources."

So no, maybe he hadn’t formally “received final options,” but the process takes place today. Two days is splitting hairs, not reason to believe reports are contrary to the truth. Perhaps Gibbs has become annoyed by the loss of control.

“I think we've been very transparent throughout this process,” he said. “We've let you all know when these meetings are; we've let you know who's in these meetings; we've put out pictures of these meetings. The President is doing this in a very purposeful and deliberate way to get the best decision. And I promise you that when he makes that decision we'll let you know. And as I've said before, the President will take the time to explain that decision and its reasoning to the American people.”

Two contentions. First, deliberation cannot be assumed as the way to get the best decision. Benefit of the doubt over Obama’s stalling is dispelled by his own alleged skepticism of Karzai. Though the White House was the primary, if not sole actor, in pushing Karzai into power, Obama apparently still has own doubts.

The NYT reported Karzai, “is considered by American officials to be an unreliable partner and is now widely derided in the White House.” Some things no amount of time can fix.

Second, and far more offensive, is the notion that “we’ve been very transparent throughout this process.” Plenty of people believe Obama is right to take his time, but we doubt many would say the process has been transparent. Outside of that group, the majority believes he’s been everything but transparent - anti-war, independents, Congress in general and Republicans in particular, foreign nations like Pakistan.

Not being a military man, it must be especially hard to keep up with the Pentagon, who appears in firm possession of Gibbs’s tongue.

“I would counsel you all to - I got asked on Saturday about a story of approving 34,000 troops, only to be asked yesterday about a story of approving nearly 40,000 troops -- this all two weeks after being asked about whether or not we were coalescing around an entirely different option. I don't know that it's annoying as much as it is generally amusing to watch somebody or some group of people decide they know what only the President knows. You know, it keeps me busy and it's in some ways fun to watch two reports that contradict each other be reported virtually simultaneously.”

“Somebody or some group of people” isn’t just the press, it’s the American electorate, every single person who put Obama into power hoping he wouldn't trigger their Vietnam flashbacks. Everyone in America is playing the guessing game because we’ve been given nothing. And it's not fun, but we’re so glad your amused by our desperate attempt to glean the slightest truth.

Many people aren’t amused, including those leaking President Obama’s intel to the press. So we understand your frustration lies more with them, and is simply being taken out on us. But we aren’t to blame for the darkness we find ourselves in.

We suggest you find other prey.

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