By the time of the Afghanistan troop decision this month, Obama had a new template. He didn't want a battery of meetings in the style of the 2009 review, with all the "leaks and noise," as one aide characterized it. He said that after two years of intensive written reports, discussion and weekly updates from Petraeus and Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, "I am up to speed on what's going on in Afghanistan."
Throughout the year, Obama had built his deliberations into other meetings, starting in January with his regular talks with national security advisor Tom Donilon, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. By June, the calendar was filled with meetings on the subject, including one with the National Security Council staff on June 9, in which he made one idea clear.
"He said we have to send a clear signal that we're serious about transition," one senior administration official said, recalling the president's words. He said Obama added, "If we're going to transition, we're going to have to have reductions."
That would become the key point of the June 15 meeting, when Gates, Clinton and the other principal advisors would gather around the polished wooden table to hear the Petraeus presentation. The general's preferred option: Pull as few as 3,000 troops out this year and fully remove the surge troops only by the end of 2012.