Secretary of Defense Robert Gates openly clashed with his top commander in Afghanistan today, insisting that Petraeus was wrong is saying he might recommend a delay in the July 2011 drawdown.
“I think that by next year I’ll be in a position where – you know, we’re going to know whether the strategy is working in Afghanistan,” Gates insisted. “We’ll have completed the surge. We’ll have done the assessment in December. And it seems like somewhere there in 2011 is a logical opportunity to hand off.
But Petraeus had suggested that the assessment itself might be moved back to July 2011, and that he didn’t feel bound by the president’s July 2011 date, particularly since Obama himself has disavowed the date as having any real meaning. Officials have been openly talking about doing a nominal drawdown of a few thousand troops in July, seemingly just so the president could claim to keep his promise while continuing the war.
Secretary Gates’ comments that he has “no question” that the drawdown will happen must also be taken with a grain of salt, as he said in the same interview that he intends to retire at some point in 2011. This must leave us wondering if Gates will even be around by July, let alone in a position to enforce the drawdown.