Above ground and three blocks west, former Vice President Cheney - who bears co-responsibility for ordering U.S. troops in Afghanistan to stay and fight for seven years with inadequate resources and no strategy, stood before television cameras and fired a vengeful salvo up Pennsylvania Avenue.
"President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision, and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission," Cheney told his applauding soul mates at the conservative Center for Security Policy. "The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger."
What has been happening in the Situation Room during the last six weeks is what should have been happening there during the last eight years of the previous administration. But Bush-Cheney failed to devise a genuine strategy to prevent a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, nor the potential return of the Taliban's former guests, al-Qaida. They were as clueless about that possibility - much as they were when they assured us the Iraq war would end quickly with grateful Iraqis strewing flowers at U.S. troops. Oddly, Cheney did inadvertently point out one Obama failure on Afghanistan - Team Obama, considered masters of public relations, bungled the PR War by failing to communicate to Americans from the outset just what was being deliberated and why the decision on Gen. Stanley McChrystal request for 40,000 more troops shouldn't be done with a quick yes.
Finally, the Obamans are getting their message out - via a well-placed leak. Washington Post correspondents Greg Jaffe and Karen DeYoung broke the news Monday about the Pentagon war game. Clearly, it was hard essential Pentagon-led analysis - not "dithering." Adm. Mullen brought military, diplomatic, economic and other officials into analyzing the full range of outcomes for two scenarios: (1) the increase of 40,000 more troops in a full counterinsurgency against the Taliban; and (2) a modest increase of 10,000-15,000, aimed at keeping al-Qaida from regaining bases in Afghanistan.
The next day, the highly-regarded DeYoung had a second scoop: the resignation of a U.S. Foreign Service official in Afghanistan who concluded the U.S. military presence in the Taliban-strongholds was making matters worse, not better. Matthew Hoh, a former highly decorated Marine captain, believes many Afghans now aren't fighting alongside the Taliban out of ideological conviction, but just because they hate the corrupt central government that the U.S. supports. And they hate the presence of U.S. troops on their land. If U.S. troops weren't there, he believes, these Afghans wouldn't be siding with the Taliban, Hoh believes. Top-level Obama officials took Hoh's concerns very seriously.
The White House strategy review has been weighing key questions include some raised this month by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.). Among them: Can a full counterinsurgency strategy aimed at halting the Taliban "succeed without significant elements of the insurgency coming over to our side," as occurred in Iraq? If not, can the Taliban rank-and-file be persuaded to stop fighting? Can a significant increase in U.S. troops prevent al-Qaida forces from slipping into Afghanistan through the porous Pakistan border?
Meanwhile, the White House didn't dither in responding to Cheney's salvo. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that during the Bush-Cheney administration, "an increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president's, for more than eight months."
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Web site, Politifact.com, investigated and concluded Gibbs' statement was true: Gen. David McKiernan, then commander in Afghanistan, made public his desire for 20,000 more troops in September 2008, four months after his initial request.
Historians specializing in chronicling case studies of unrepentant chutzpah will note that Bush-Cheney never did fulfill their general's troop request. But it was finally granted - last March, by President Obama.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.