Asia trip? What Asia trip? Obama’s Spokesman Parries Afghanistan Questions In The Air

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Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska

In an early sign of how President Obama’s trip to Asia will likely go, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs came back to the press cabin on Air Force One Thursday to a torrent of questions that were not about the president’s trip to Asia. “Can we start with Afghanistan, and why the president thought that the options he was presented were not sufficient and why he sent them back,” came the first query out of the gate.

It is an awkward problem of timing for Obama’s staff, who had hoped that coverage of the trip would focus mainly on describing the president’s commitment to deep engagement with the Far East. But Afghanistan is the news. More particularly, it is news that Obama sent back the Pentagon’s four options for the war, asking for more detail. “I think you may have heard from [Defense] Sec. [Robert] Gates today that the president is evaluating the options and choosing what is best in all of them. What the president wants to ensure is that we take into account and understand so that the American people can understand, our time commitment and ensure that we have the strongest partner in the Afghan government.”

Gibbs did not explain why those factors were not sufficiently detailed in the four options that have been presented to Obama.

Later Gibbs did add, “We have been there for eight years, and we are not going to be there forever. It’s important to fully examine not just how we are going to get folks in, but how we are going to get folks out.”

In Alaska, the president plans to meet with the family of a soldier who died in Afghanistan. He will meet with a group of about 12 locally based troops, to take questions. Then he will address a group of about 2,000 troops, a speech that was originally scheduled to be delivered on Veterans’ Day.

We are now holding in an airplane hanger where more than a thousand soldiers are awaiting Obama’s speech. The live band is doing a cover of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”–with sax solo. No joke.