President Obama took the unusual step of telephoning Afghan President Hamid Karzai in mid-afternoon Sunday - which was late at night, Afghanistan time. Sources say he didn't want to wait before conveying his condolences for what appears to be a horrific massacre on innocent Afghans, including nine children, by an American soldier.
The president and White House officials find themselves in the seemingly contradictory position of being worried what this horrific incident might mean - and doing everything they can to ensure that in terms of the big picture it means not much.
To that end, President Obama's message to Karzai was twofold: that there will be accountability for the solider, and that the U.S. cares about these innocent victims as much as if they were American civilian victims.
The message from the White House, however, will be on focusing on the bigger picture, on handing over control to the Afghan forces, on maintaining the strategy in that country.
One senior national security aide recalled that recent events brought another example of the U.S. "weathering and working through a difficult situation that inflamed Afghan opinion and was exploited by the Taliban - the Koran burning. It was very difficult, but within weeks we had resolved a longstanding issue with the Afghans and reached agreement on how to transfer responsibility for detainees to them."
There is concern within the White House, however, that this incident might prompt a stronger reaction that did the Koran burning incident, possibly inflaming the Kandahar region if not the entire country. But look to the White House to not express those concerns publicly, since officials seek for that to not come to fruition.