The Cable

White House: No Afghanistan announcement until after Thanksgiving

The Obama administration won't announce its new comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan until after Thanksgiving, a White House official confirms to The Cable, and observers and experts close to the discussions see it as the White House's attempt to stage a full and controlled rollout over the week beginning November 30.

By waiting until Congress returns from its Thanksgiving vacation, the White House can have the time to directly consult with key lawmakers and then have senior officials testify soon after the announcement is made. In that way, the argument goes, the administration can build more support for the policy, deal quickly with any opposition on Capitol Hill, and then have a more active role in how the story plays out in the media.

"They're going to have to come out with both guns blazing and they're going to have to have their stuff together with consultations and everything," said one senior GOP foreign policy staffer close to the issue.

The administration isn't going to want to make the announcement and then wait a long time before holding the hearings, because that would make it more difficult to keep the message consistent after the news breaks.

Plus, congressional attention will be diverted that week to the health-care debate in the Senate, distracting some attention from the Afghanistan debate, which may be part of the administration's calculations.

"You basically own the space, but you fold it under the debate over health care," the staffer speculated about the administration's thinking, "That way you can't be accused of burying it."

Meanwhile, the staffs of key principals have already begun crafting the rollout and testimony speeches, leaving holes in the text to fill in whatever the President's specific troop and resource decisions might turn out to be.

The reports about the substance of the president's pending decision have been all over the map, with many stating that Obama simply hasn't reached a final conclusion on how to move forward. But there is increasing chatter that one scheme, known as the "Gates option" after Defense Secretary Robert Gates, may be gaining momentum.

That option would deploy three brigades to Afghanistan, short of the four envisioned by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but with the option to deploy the fourth later should the need be demonstrated.

The president and key national security team members return from their trip to Asia today.


The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Clinton in Kabul, Chinese bribes, Iran, Iraq, Tegucigalpa

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of Friday's briefing at the Foreign Press Center by Department Spokesman Ian Kelly:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Kabul today. The Cable has all the details of her agenda, where she delivered an anti-corruption message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai before his inauguration and met with U.S. troops, foreign ministers, and embassy staff.
  • No confirmation of reports that the Chinese bribed Afghanistan's minister of mines, Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, in order to secure a $3 billion contract. "Corruption is a serious problem, and we expect [Karzai] to take concrete action to fight this problem," Kelly said, "The executive branch has to look into these allegations that were in The Washington Post today. And then, we need to have a prosecutorial part of it."
  • After the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Iran will not send any uranium out of the country, the State Department still doesn't consider this a formal response to the IAEA's proposed deal. "Until the IAEA gets the response and formally says this is Iran's response, I don't consider a statement to the press necessarily a response," said Kelly, "We're not going to close any door on the engagement track. But at a certain point, I think, we're going to start paying a little more attention to the other track. We're not quite at that point right now. But as I said before, I think that time is short."
  • The State Department is "disappointed" that Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi vetoed the Iraqi election law, throwing plans to hold the polls in January into disarray. "We urge the Iraqi Parliament to take quick action," Kelly said, adding that U.S. troop withdrawal timetables would not be affected.
  • Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly is still in Tegucigalpa meeting with de factor regime leader Roberto Micheletti and ousted president Manuel Zelaya. The Honduran parliament won't vote on whether to restore Zelaya until after the November 29 election, but that is fine because the accord that both parties are working under only says parliament should vote, not when, according to Kelly. "Scheduling the vote on December 2nd isn't necessarily inconsistent with the accord," he said. Somehow that doesn't change the U.S. position of calling for restoration of the democratically elected president, said Kelly, even though Zelaya would be the lamest of lame ducks, that is if the vote goes his way.