I want to chime in here with the coveted CotD to Brendan for noticing it, and for the NYT for doing it. Good job, and nice catch!
Elsewhere in the story...
They quote Peter Feaver of Duke (and the George W. Bush administration) saying that approval of the administration's Afghan policy might be higher if Barack Obama was saying more positive things about it (possible, I suppose), but also that:
He doesn’t talk about winning in 2014; he talks about leaving in 2014. In a sense that protects him from an attack from the left, but I would think it has the pernicious effect of softening political support for the existing policy.The thing is -- whether Obama is more worried about attacks from those who want out of Afghanistan or those who want US forces there long after 2014 depends almost entirely on what Obama really wants, doesn't it?
Suppose, however, that what he really wants is the maximum possible flexibility. In that case, I suspect his best bet would be to play it as he is now. Don't sell the policy too much. If, at some point, he chooses to stay longer, I suspect he would still have both Republican and Democratic allies on the Hill who would support it (at the very least, John McCain almost surely would). On the other hand, if he wants to accelerate withdrawal, he can already claim numerous Republicans as supporters. The trick is to keep it as low-key as he can. That keeps it relatively far away from partisan craziness, and also prevents setbacks from being tied to him.
Granted, if his goal is to build support for a long-term occupation, then it's possible that a higher-profile, more positive selling job might be a good idea (although not necessarily; it didn't help Bush much in Iraq).
At any rate, nice catch!, and a good job by the NYT.