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June 15, 2011

Mitt Romney Gets Heat For His Debate Answer On Afghanistan

Personally, I'm not sure why.

Here's what he said.

JOHN BROWN, VOTER: Osama bin Laden is dead. We’ve been in Afghanistan for ten years. Isn’t it time to bring our combat troops home from Afghanistan?

KING: Governor Romney, take the lead on that one.

ROMNEY: It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Taliban military in a way that they’re able to defend themselves. Excuse me, the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. That’s an important distinction.

I want to say, first of all, thank you to you for the sacrifice of your family and your sons in defending the liberty that we have and our friends around the world. Thank you for what you’ve done.

KING: Congressman Paul?

ROMNEY: Let me — let me continue. That is I think we’ve learned some important lessons in our experience in Afghanistan. I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals.

But I also think we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban. Thank you.

That's controversial? Apparently so.

Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said her inbox was flooded Tuesday morning with emails calling Romney’s comments a “disaster.”

“I’d thought of Romney as a mainstream Republican – supporting American strength and American leadership, but this doesn’t reflect that,” she said. “Romney has proven himself a little bit of a weathervane and I guess he senses that positioning himself in this place is good for his campaign — attempting to appease Ron Paul’s constituents without actually being Ron Paul.”

“You can’t really triangulate on these issues. Either you think we’re fighting a war we need to win or you think we ought to bring all the troops home, but he said it all there,” Pletka said.

Other Republicans did not want to be quoted out of party loyalty and fear of the front runner.

There was a conspicuous silence from conservatives who have backed an aggressive U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and long feared that the Republican nominee would be tempted to turn against “Obama’s war.”

Conditions on the ground and military advice from commanders in the field is enough to get you labeled "a weathervane"? Maybe it was the "bring our troops home as soon as possible" bit that got some going but you know what? I'm pretty sure that's the overwhelming sentiment of the American people.

I don't believe there's any appreciable appetite in the country for an open ended commitment to Afghanistan. I think any President, Democrat or Republican is going to look at the victories we've won there recently and use it as an opportunity to take a step back in terms of our presence there. Either the Afghans are ready or close to being ready to take control of their country soon or they aren't. If after almost 10 years of support and training they aren't ready to carry the load, then isn't reassessing our strategy and commitment to them a reasonable and responsible action?

It all comes down to how you define victory.

If victory is punishing those who committed and abetted the 9/11 attacks and ensuring that Afghanistan is not going to be used as a giant basic training base for similar attacks (and as a bonus, given the Afghans a chance to build a decent country), then I'd say our military and intelligence forces have won.

If you think victory amounts to subduing every anti-American tribesman who also opposes the Karzai government in Kabul and turning Afghanistan into a semi-modern country, then I think you are signing the US up for an even longer mission and commitment very few Americans actually support.

Either way, people need to clearly define what they think "victory" means and let the voters decide.



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posted by DrewM. at 12:01 PM

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