Obama: Exit is Not an Option

President mum on more troops

By Mike Allen
|  Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010  |  Updated 5:13 PM PDT
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A draw-down in Afghanistan isn't likely. Neither is a surge.

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President Barack Obama told congressional leaders summoned to the White House on Tuesday that the options he is considering for Afghanistan do not include either a huge surge or a hasty exit, but instead fall in between, a senior administration official said.

“He said: There’s not a decision to double down in Afghanistan, nor is there a decision to leave,” the official said. “The president made clear that whatever decision he does make will not make everybody around that table happy, but that he is committed to this being a consultative process going forward.”

The official called the meeting “a chance for the president to identify what is an is not on the table.”

“And what is not on the table, in any sense, is leaving Afghanistan or so narrowly defining our mission as to be the equivalent of leaving Afghanistan,” the official continued.

“Similarly, there is no consideration of an option that would entail hundreds of thousands of American troops over a very extended period of time, which would be an all-in campaign that would go far above any beyond the resources that have been discussed.”

Obama told the lawmakers: “No one feels a greater sense of urgency than I do.”

“But the sense of urgency that he feels is to make the right decision, not to just make a decision,” the official added. “Almost everybody prefaced their comments by underscoring how important the decision is. So there was a very broadly constructive, supportive tone from members of both parties.”

The meeting included 31 lawmakers and lasted 1 hour 27 minutes. The group sat around a huge table in the State Dining Room, with Vice President Joe Biden sitting across from the president. At the table from the White House were National Security Adviser James Jones, Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.

The president sat in the middle of the table, flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) next to Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) next to Reid. From there, the lawmakers were paired by committees.

No congressional staff attended.

“He found the discussion very useful and constructive, because it was a chance to have a dialogue and to establish what he hopes will be a very open and consultative process with Congress going forward,” the official said. “He was satisfied that the meeting accomplished what he intended.”

The official said that every lawmaker had a chance to talk, so Obama spent more time listening than talking. Some gave very specific advice.

“The president was not engaging in a debate about specific resource determinations,” the official said. “He made it clear that he’s focused on establishing the strategy that will achieve our goals of defeating al Qaeda and protecting America and our allies from attack. He’s focused on getting that strategy right.”

Obama told the lawmakers that he wanted to have “mechanisms for regular contact between our administration and the Congress, and that he had an open line to those members who wanted to reach out to him with their ideas or concerns,” the official said.

“We did hear a broad spectrum of opinion,” the official added. “Some of it touched on assessment, some of it touched on strategy, some of it touched on resources.”

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