The White House is sending strong signals to buttress a point made by President Obama at his much-watched Afghanistan speech last week: The draw-down date of July 2011 is to only be the beginning of the withdrawal of American troops, not the end. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates took to the Sunday talk-show circuit to hammer home that the pull-out would be gradual, and could take a long time. Though Obama had initially made that point plain, the White House wanted to dispel confusion that all troops would be withdrawn in July 2011. Pundits coming back down to Earth are miffed at being corrected.

  • Clarification, Not Change  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder explains. "The goal was not -- so much -- to send a message to world or to Afghanistan or Pakistan today; it was to bring some clarity to a confused press discourse on the question of a U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and the nature of the July, 2011 'withdrawal commencement' date."
  • Proves Folly Of Timetables  Commentary's Jennifer Rubin scoffs. "They had to, of course. The contradiction between the need for a full commitment to a critical war and an artificial date for withdrawal is too vast and unsustainable, both logically and politically," she writes. "If [Senator John] McCain is right and success in a counterinsurgency depends on unnerving the enemy, reference to a withdrawal date was a significant misstep. On the other hand, it’s rather plain that no one in the administration is willing to defend a date-certain deadline."
  • Obama Wants It Both Ways  But he can't have it, says L.A. Times's Andrew Malcolm. "[Obama's speech] was, in effect, a deft political speech designed by the White House to have it both ways -- tough talk about protecting America for the national security fanciers alongside a vow that it wouldn't last long for the anti-war folks and as a warning to slow-moving Afghans to get going," Malcolm writes. "But in a classic case of White House walkback, to once again have it both ways down the road, in the succeeding six days Obama Cabinet members have been fudging the July 2011 pullout start."
  • White House Reassures Hawks  National Review's Pete Hegseth, a former Army Captain, polishes his hawk credential as he praises Obama's clarification. "Yes, the president delayed his decision, but he’s now rushing troops to the front. Yes, the president set a tentative timeline, but he is allowing Secretary Gates and General McChrystal to reassure our allies and the Afghan people that it’s tentative. And yes, the president continues to bad-mouth the legacy of Iraq (which infuriates Iraq veterans), but his decision is evidence that he’s actually learned the right lessons from that war’s surge."