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How I Caught Obama's Team Trapping Themselves into a Corner on Their Afghanistan Spin

The White House Press Corps jumped on Robert Gibbs when they saw the glaring contradiction of demanding a corruption free government and not withdrawing from Afghanistan.

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You take steps to make sure that your partner is ready, willing, and able to assist in a way that is effective and matches, through their effort, the resources that you're dedicating to deal with this problem. I use that example because in many ways for that six-year or seven-year period of time, nothing was done.

Before I could, someone else asked the obvious follow-up:

Q: Well, then are we doomed to more problems with Karzai because he's not transparent or not cooperating or corrupt?

GIBBS: …I think -- I think that we are clearly going to have to take actions to ensure that everybody is working collectively to get this right. We -- no amount of additional American resources that are siphoned off and not going to the problem that they're directed at, no increase or amount is going to fix a problem if those resources ultimately don't get to where they're going.

Now, something of a small feeding frenzy was underway:

Q: Then how do you make sure the resources get to where they're going?  You've just quoted what happened in Pakistan.  Why are --

GIBBS:  We will work to ensure that they do. I think that's the very least that any of -- that anybody can ask if we're dedicating the lives of men and women in our uniform to ensure that this is done in a way that ultimately protects them.

The issue here, of course, is how can the Obama administration ensure that there's a decent government and an effective security force in Afghanistan? Gibbs never detailed that. Nor did he address what would happen if Washington failed to ensure that such a partner was available for the war effort in Afghanistan. Throughout this exchange, it was hard not to think of Vietnam, where the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were never able to ensure the existence of a competent and corruption-free South Vietnamese government. To make the Vietnam metaphor more pointed, as Gibbs was speaking, protesters calling for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan were holding a "die-in" at the White House gate -- an action that Gibbs said he was not aware of -- and Gibbs even used the phrase "the best and the brightest" during the briefing, while referring to the US soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

After I had posed my question, other reporters in the room sensed that the White House is in a bind, and they pounced. My intent was not to trigger a gotcha moment. But as Obama moves ahead with his Afghanistan policy review -- prior to rendering a decision about whether to send more troops -- he has to contend with this dilemma. He must do so not only in his behind-closed-doors policy sessions with his national security team, but in his conversation with the public about the war. After all, this may be a difficult truth to handle, but it's not a hard one to see.

David Corn is the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones and the co-author of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War and is the author of The Lies of George W. Bush . He writes a blog at

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