Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday excoriated Defense Secretary Robert Gates for his boss's decision to announce an Afghan strategy timeline during his speech Tuesday night.
McCain, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, reportedly first challenged the president's move to announce a tentative, July 2011 transition of power during a private meeting before Obama's speech at West Point.
But the senator's frustration with that call was on full display this morning when Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen testified before the committee.
The spat began after McCain bluntly asked Gates to specify whether the president's exit strategy was "based on an arbitrary date" or tuned to "conditions on the ground."
"The president has indicated we will have a thorough review [in December 2010]," Gates stressed during the somewhat heated exchange, noting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan could not become an "open ended" conflict.
That reply, however, hardly satisfied the Arizona senator, who said it was unclear "why that date was picked." He then challenged the logic supporting the secretary's remarks and the president's plan, questioning whether it was possible to both specify a timeline and acknowledge its deadline coulds change if conflict worsens.
"One or the other," McCain said. "It has to be appropriate conditions or an arbitrary date... you can't have both."
Gates, ultimately, repeated his earlier remark that the White House would conduct a thorough review of the troop surge's effects next December, and he stressed that review would include "a look at the strategy itself" if conditions reveal Afghanistan is not yet ready for transition.
But McCain promptly rebuffed Gates' reassurances, noting the president needed to tell voters more explicitly that the war might not reach a conclusion by the date he offered in his speech.
"I think that's got to be made very clear, because i think the expectation level... is that we will be [withdrawing] in July 2011," McCain said.