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Transition 2012

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Afghanistan Update: Romney’s Potential Policy Under Scrutiny

by Newsteam Staff
April 19, 2012

Security forces at the site of an incident in Kabul April 16, 2012 (Omar Sobhani/Courtesy Reuters). Security forces at the site of an incident in Kabul April 16, 2012 (Omar Sobhani/Courtesy Reuters).


With increased violence and growing voter dissatisfaction putting Afghanistan in the spotlight, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney’s position on the war is coming under more intense scrutiny (NYT) as the primary winds down.

U.S. voter support for the war in Afghanistan was already waning, and now a Washington Post/ABC News poll shows a lack of support for the war for the first time from a majority of Republicans. The Obama administration has said it is sticking to the troop withdrawal timetable and strategy announced last year.

“For Romney’s campaign, the slip in Republican support for the war could pose political difficulties, placing him outside the majority view of his party,” the Washington Post says. “For the first time, more Republicans and GOP-leaning independents oppose the war than support it, with 55 percent saying it has not been worth the costs.”

Similarly, CFR’s James M. Lindsay at his blog The Water’s Edge asks if Afghanistan is a problem for Romney after assessing a new Pew poll showing 60 percent of voters polled want troops home as soon as possible, with 48 percent of Republicans polling this way.

“Now that Romney has the nomination locked up he could dial back his rhetoric, emphasize his desire to depart Afghanistan, and thereby keep pace with where public sentiment is headed,” Lindsay writes. “But doing that risks alienating a sizable chunk of his base and potentially confirming the charge that he is a flip-flopper.”

CFR’s Stephen Biddle told the New York Times that Romney “doesn’t want to own this war in the event he gets elected, but by the same token he can’t look like he’s advocating a precipitous withdrawal for all sorts of reasons, including alienating the Republican base, and yet he cannot take the same position as the president.”

Romney has pledged not let politics dictate his Afghan policy, but that could mean anything says, Byron York in the Washington Examiner. “A President Romney could withdraw all troops immediately or order them to fight for another decade and not violate that commitment,” York says. “The question is whether public opinion — the foundation of politics — will push Romney away from the war as the campaign continues.”

Michael Crowley in TIME calls Romney’s stance against talking to the Taliban a “relatively extreme position” given lack of voter support. “Romney’s opposition to talks is intellectually defensible,” he says. “But its implication is political poison. Fighting to ‘defeat’ the Taliban could take many more years, and tens of thousands more American troops.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, conversely, writes in Bloomberg that the Obama administration’s increasing focus on withdrawal “according to an arbitrary timetable rather than conditions on the ground” is distracting for those trying to figure out if the Taliban is winning or losing, and from asking hard questions.

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates on Afghanistan.

Suggested Other Reading:

In a CFR report, Biddle also examines Afghan governance reform  — crucial to stability there — and what the United States should focus on in a short timetable.

CFR’s Daniel Markey says the recent attacks in Afghanistan should be drawing U.S. attention to Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which was linked to the latest spate of attacks, and figuring out how to exit Afghanistan without leaving the entire region “a mess.”

Contributing Editor Gayle S. Putrich and Senior Editor Toni Johnson

1 Comment

  • Posted by John F. Phillips

    The Afghanistan situation is becoming indefensible. Romney’s position, while politically expedient, is too vague and sends the wrong signal to our coalition partners and to the extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I cannot believe for one minute that a President Romney would continue to wage war in Afghanistan given the costs in terms of national treasure and lives. The concept of nation building in Afghanistan is deeply flawed given the history and culture of that country. Afghanistan is NOT Iraq and counterinsurgency and winning hearts and minds is not a viable strategy. It is time for Mr. Romney to show some political courage and formulate policy proposals that will lead to disengagement and an end to our effort in that country.