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January 29, 2009

Mixed Messages
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

One odd phenomenon coming out of Obama's meeting with the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon yesterday is the odd disparity in how the NY Times and Washington Post covered this issue.

The Times writes:

As President Obama moves to redefine the nation’s mission in Iraq, he faces a difficult choice: Is he willing to abandon a campaign promise or risk a rupture with the military? Or can he finesse the difference?

Since taking office last week, Mr. Obama has recommitted to ending the war in Iraq but not to his specific campaign pledge to pull out roughly one combat brigade a month for the first 16 months of his presidency. His top commander in Iraq has proposed a slower start to the withdrawal, warning of the dangers of drawing down too quickly.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama visited the Pentagon for the first time since becoming president, and he seemed to be looking for an option that would let him stay true to his campaign promise, at least in theory, without alienating the generals. The White House indicated that Mr. Obama was open to alternatives to his 16-month time frame and emphasized that security was an important factor in his decision.

Well, that doesn't sound too good.  But then you read the Post.

Officers at the meeting described their new commander in chief in glowing terms, saying he had seemed deeply interested in what they had to say, asked pertinent questions and was decisive in expressing his own views.

"This was by no means just another briefing for the Commander-in-Chief," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a statement e-mailed to reporters last night. Obama, he said, "was not simply in receive-mode. He, along with everyone else around the table, was fully engaged in a dynamic discussion about global risks, ways to mitigate them and how to do so in the midst of this economic crisis. I think everyone walked away with the sense that this new relationship got off to a very productive start..."

Some military officials have expressed concerns about the risks of a rapid withdrawal, but most senior officers have said they see no problem in drawing down the troops in the absence of an unanticipated reversal of security gains in Iraq. Obama has indicated he plans to send as many as 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan this year, increasing the urgency of an Iraq drawdown.

Now that sounds a lot better.  This could just be a difference in perception of the reports.  It obviously includes a difference in sources.  But I think what you're most likely looking at here is another difference of opinion between the Joint Chiefs and the folks in Iraq.  Let's not forget back in 2007 there were a lot of stories out there about the Joint Chiefs being opposed to the surge and contending that our military resources and strategy were too heavily weighted towards Iraq.  The commanders in Iraq have always been more cautious and asked for greater resources.  The discrepancy in reporting might possibly be just another manifestation of this division.


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