With the all-but-announced renewal of Defense Secretary Robert Gates's appointment, President-elect Obama has given himself the reins of his pet military issue earlier than usual. He's the only president in history to retain a Pentagon chief tapped by a previous commander-in-chief of the opposite party. By doing so, he's able now to start planning his own military strategy with a man capable of making real preparations to enact it — and in this case, it looks like his first moves will be in Afghanistan. Throughout the campaign, Obama spoke often and aggressively about transferring troops from Iraq to the embattled area, where U.S. troops have been losing their grip on a growing Taliban insurgency. Gates is on the record as supporting a measured withdrawal from Iraq, and according to reports out late yesterday, Pentagon officials have been hoping to increase forces in Afghanistan by 20,000 to 30,000. With Obama in charge, they'll be able to move quickly — and in fact can begin making preparations now, so that forces can be shipped as early as January.
Only problem is, Afghan president Hamid Karzai has lately been publicly begging the U.N. for a "timeline" of U.S. military withdrawal from the country. He's even raised the possibility of talks with the Taliban to try to stop the cycle of violence. Which is a prospect that would probably be abhorrent to most international leaders, including not just one, but both of our own presidents.