Addressing Afghanistan continues to be a conundrum for GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney as the Obama administration attempts to outline the U.S. commitment there long-term.
President Barack Obama hopes to sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before May’s NATO summit in Chicago begins (Reuters). The agreement outlines the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan (WashPost), so far offering few specifics, but a broad guarantee on the U.S. role in the decade after the planned troop withdrawal in 2014.
In an editorial, the Washington Post notes: “Whatever its dimensions, a continued U.S. commitment to Afghanistan will be controversial. That’s why the most important follow-up to the new agreement must come from Mr. Obama. The president has not given a major speech about Afghanistan in more than a year and has not visited the country in 18 months. His actions will be important to reinforce the message, to both Afghans and Americans, of the bilateral accord: that he is firmly committed to Afghanistan’s future. ”
Romney, so far has not commented on the new strategy, but in the past has criticized the Obama administration’s focus on leaving over winning in Afghanistan.
In an editorial, Bloomberg calls Romney’s Afghanistan position “vague and frustrating” when trying to compare to the president’s. “Both men favor a deadline for withdrawal of American troops,” Bloomberg’s editors write. “Both say that deadline should be the end of 2014. Both acknowledge that some small number of troops will have to remain indefinitely. Romney has also said, as Obama has not, that full withdrawal should happen only when U.S. generals approve or ‘as soon as that mission is complete.’ So is Romney in favor of full withdrawal by 2014 or is he not?”
Similarly at CNN, Foreign Policy’s managing editor Blake Hounshell also says Romney’s Afghanistan positions are very close to the president’s only he can’t admit it. “His main substantive complaint seems to be that Obama is withdrawing the surge troops by September instead of … December,” Hounshell notes. “Indeed, his campaign’s few pronouncements on this subject are reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s ‘secret plan’ to end the war in Vietnam, which turned out to be a plan to cut and run without ever admitting as much.”
For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates and Afghanistan.
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The withdrawal agreement counts as only partial progress, says CFR’s Max Boot, without more specific pledges for Afghanistan’s security along the lines of troop agreements in Western Europe after World War II. “Until it includes those kinds of specific pledges, the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan’s future will remain more rhetorical than real–and fears about Afghanistan falling apart after 2014 will continue,” Boot says.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Andrew J. Bacevich says that for however long U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan, a much greater top-level accountability is needed to end the flow of scandals involving members of the U.S. military, from the accidental burning of Qurans to the most recent photographs of U.S. soldiers with dismembered Taliban corpses. “The best way to stanch this outpouring of embarrassing news from Afghanistan is to bring our soldiers home, an option that many Americans find increasingly attractive.”
— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor