What is it with President Obama and artificial deadlines? First he set a deadline for shutting down Guantanamo by January 2010--yet the detention center remains open and the New York Times reports that the White House has given up on closing it before Obama's term ends. Instead of learning from that experience, Obama set another misguided deadline--this time to begin an American withdrawal from Afghanistan by July 2011. Whether the president realizes it or not, he is going to have to abandon that deadline as well--and the sooner he does so the better. The Guantanamo deadline only cost him some momentary embarrassment; the Afghanistan deadline could cost us a war.
At his confirmation hearing tomorrow, Gen. David Petraeus will be pressed to answer a difficult question: Can his counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan succeed when the U.S. has already announced a date for withdrawal? There is growing concern among congressional Republicans that the answer is no. Until last week, a revolt had been brewing among senators who backed Obama on the surge but have concluded that the deadline could bring down the entire war effort. Petraeus's nomination has for the moment quelled this insurgency on Capitol Hill, but concern remains that Petraeus may not be able to quell the insurgency in Afghanistan if the president does not untie his hands. As Missouri Sen. Kit Bond put it, if the withdrawal date stands, Obama is "setting [Petraeus] up for failure."