The Pentagon's pre-emptive strike came with the leak of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's confidential review of the Afghan war to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post.
McChrystal's painting of the military picture was grim.
"Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
If I don't get the troops to reverse the Taliban gains, said McChrystal, we face "mission failure." A Saigon ending to the Afghan war. Word was quickly out that McChrystal wanted 40,000 troops, to bring U.S. force levels to 110,000 and coalition forces to 140,000.
Last week, a three-hour review was held at the White House. McChrystal participated by teleconference. His strategy -- fight a counterinsurgency against the Taliban by taking and holding population centers, protecting the Afghan people and building up Kabul's army, economy and government -- was challenged.
Among those urging a smaller U.S. footprint and a strategic shift from fighting the Taliban to killing al-Qaida in Pakistan with drone and Special Forces strikes was Joe Biden.
McChrystal answered Biden in a speech and Q-and-A session in London, all but saying Joe ought to stick to the rubber-chicken circuit and leave war to the warriors. A "counter-terrorist focus" like the Biden strategy, said McChrystal, would lead straight to "Chaos-istan."
Would he support it?
"The short answer is no," said McChrystal. "Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support" -- a shot at what critics are calling Obama's dithering in deciding on McChrystal's troop request.
Obama, said to be "furious," called McChrystal to Copenhagen for a 25-minute face-to-face on Air Force One.
Yet McChrystal is now quoted in Newsweek about any half measures to reverse a deteriorating situation. "You can't hope to contain the fire by letting just half the building burn."
Sunday, National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said of the McChrystal-Obama meeting, "I am sure they exchanged direct views."
Jones went on to suggest McChrystal's recommendations were merely the general's "own opinion" of "what he thinks his role within that strategy is." Other factors must go into the final decisions on strategy and force levels. Among them, said Jones, is the election debacle in Kabul that made Tehran's vote look like Iowa.