Decision-making, dithering, and sitting on desks

Last month, Robert Gibbs fired back at Dick Cheney’s (inarguable) accusation that President Obama is dithering about Afghanistan, saying:

The vice president was for seven years not focused on Afghanistan. Even more curious given the fact that an increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president’s, for more than eight months, a resource request filled by President Obama in March.

Obviously Gibbs’s effort to tie in the vice president is rubbish, since the vice president is not in the chain of command. But what about the central accusation that the request sat on President Bush’s desk for more than eight months?

The St. Petersburg Times’s “Truth-o-meter” rates the accusation true, observing that Gen. McKiernan (apparently) started issuing requests for more troops when he took over in Afghanistan, about eight months before the end of President Bush’s term, and those requests were not fully fulfilled during the Bush administration.

If “sat on desks” meant the same thing as “was not fully fulfilled”, then Gibbs and the St. Petersburg Times would have a strong case. (Of course, by that definition, Gen. McChrystal’s request will probably be sitting on Obama’s desk forever, since all indications are that it will not be fully granted.) But that’s not what the phrase means. To “sit on a desk” means that no decision was made. That is not at all the case with Gen. McKiernan’s requests for troops.

As ABC News explains, McKiernan made several requests for troops over his months in command, totaling about 30,000 troops. Some of the requests were granted, but most were not, as the Surge in Iraq was making heavy demands. Instead, the Bush administration tried to get NATO to fill the gap. By the fall of 2008 it was clear that NATO was not going to come through, and with the Surge winding down, more US troops were available for Afghanistan and were sent. In March 2009, with Iraq quiet and troops withdrawals underway, the balance was sent by President Obama.

So what you saw from President Bush is the normal process of allocating scarce military resources where they are most needed. In other words, you saw decision-making. In March you saw the same from President Obama. But now, on the other hand, you see Obama unable to make a decision. Dithering.

ABC put it bluntly:

So Gibbs’s claim that for “eight months” McKiernan’s request for troops “sat on desks” isn’t accurate.

It’s no surprise that Gibbs is wrong; he usually is. But so, it seems, is the St. Petersburg Times. Last month I noted that the “Truth-o-meter” rated several true criticisms of the Obama administration as false. Here it rated a false defense of the Obama administration as true. What use is a fact checker that sides with the administration regardless of the facts?

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