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A hurried departure brings political as well as strategic risk. Karl Rove has publicly counseled Republicans to cast withdrawal as a retreat that "emboldens America's enemies." It would also likely frustrate some of Obama's generals, who want more time to consolidate their gains. "There could be some tension," warns Smith, who speaks regularly with Pentagon officials. Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are rhetorically hugging the generals, bashing Obama for setting withdrawal timelines against the advice of some Pentagon brass.
Yet senior Administration officials argue that, whatever the pace of withdrawal, Obama will have the upper hand over Republicans who back an unpopular, open-ended commitment. It wouldn't be the first time. When Obama ran for President in 2008, he supported a withdrawal timeline to end another seemingly hopeless conflict--the war in Iraq. John McCain blasted him as irresponsible, but Obama got the best of the argument. He is counting on history to repeat itself.