Related Post: Obama on Iran - The Engagement Continues
Update on Update: So, fearing that the President is stalling on the issue, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says he expects Obama's decision on troops in Afghanistan in the "next few days".
Update: President Obama just used the ploy of "don't act; send it to committee" to foil the military's drive for a quick surge in Afghanistan. The White House has just announced "an interagency review", chaired by former CIA officer and current Brookings Institution fellow Bruce Riedel, to examine US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While President Obama's main concern in Elkhart, Indiana, last night was to put across his economic stimulus package, there were several significant exchanges with reporters on foreign-policy issues.
We've posted a separate entry on the significance of Obama's remarks about Iran, which offer further encouragement for engagement.
Here's a more subtle development, however, that the media missed: on Afghanistan, Obama slapped down the military and General David Petraeus.
We are undergoing a thorough-going review. Not only is General Petraeus, now the head of CENTCOM, conducting his own review, he's now working in concert with the special envoy that I've sent over -- Richard Holbrooke, one of our top diplomats -- to evaluate a regional approach. We are going to need more effective coordination of our military efforts with diplomatic efforts with development efforts with more effective coordination with our allies in order for us to be successful.
Interpretation? Obama signalled that he is not going to accept, without discussion and modification, the military's surge proposal. Specifically, he let it be known that Petraeus's word isn't gospel --- however big the legend of "victory" in Iraq --- and Holbrooke is his point man as he tours Afghanistan.
That's not to say Obama isn't playing tough. His other warning was that the US would use all necessary means to remove the insurgent threat from Pakistan:
This past week I met with families of those who were lost in 9/11, a reminder of the costs of allowing those safe havens to exist. My bottom line is that we cannot allow al Qaeda to operate. We cannot have those safe havens in that region. And we're going to have to work both smartly and effectively, but with consistency, in order to make sure that those safe havens don't exist.
Later in the conference, Obama returned to the theme and put the onus on Islamabad to respond positively to American plans: "I believe that the new government of Pakistan and -- and [President Asif] Zardari cares deeply about getting control
of this situation, and we want to be effective partners with them on that issue."
A more positive signal went out to Moscow, where Obama continued the Administration's early efforts at co-operation: "I've mentioned [nuclear proliferation] in conversations with the Russian president, Mr. Medvedev, to let him know that it is important for us to restart the conversation, about how we can start reducing our nuclear arsenals in an effective way."