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.