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Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Afghanistan Update: Lost in the Campaign Shuffle

by Newsteam Staff
August 16, 2012

A U.S. soldier awaits orders to fire on the mortar platoon on Combat Outpost Nangalam in the Pech River Valley of Afghanistan's Kunar Province June 28, 2012. (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters). A U.S. soldier in the Pech River Valley of Afghanistan's Kunar Province June 28, 2012. (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters).


With about three months left to go in the 2012 presidential campaign, some analysts and others are wondering if the candidates and voters have forgotten that the United States is still fighting a war in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta attempted to draw attention (Politico) back to the 84,000 troops still in Afghanistan earlier this week. “I realize that there are a lot of other things going on around this country that can draw our attention, from the Olympics, to political campaigns to droughts, to some of the tragedies we’ve seen in communities around the country,” Panetta said at Tuesday’s Pentagon press briefing. “I thought it was important to remind the American people that there is a war going on.”

President Barack Obama has sometimes touted his ongoing plan for ending the war in Afghanistan as one of the highlights of his first term, but it is not a regular point in stump speeches that tend to focus more on the economy than foreign policy or defense. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has criticized President Obama’s withdrawal plan and public timeline for Afghanistan, but has been criticized by some analysts for offering little detail on his own plans.

The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins looks at the stuttering start to the new Afghan state and wonders why the candidates are not talking about how they would handle potential problems there. “Why does all this matter to American voters?” Filkins writes. “Look at this way: after eleven years, more than four-hundred billion dollars spent and two thousand Americans dead, this is what we’ve built: a deeply dysfunctional, predatory Afghan state that seems incapable of standing on its own—even when we’re there. What happens when we’re not? You can bet that, whoever the president is, he’ll be talking about it then.”

The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol says that when Obama speaks about Afghanistan, it is usually in the past tense, as though combat there has already ended, and Romney seldom mentions the war or the troops. “Is it too much to ask both candidates for commander in chief to take a minute in their appearances to express that pride in our troops—and to take another minute to explain how their policies will seek to ensure their sacrifices will have been worthwhile? We’re asking a lot more, after all, of our men and women in uniform,” Kristol writes

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

Suggested Other Reading:

In this report, CFR’s Max Boot recommends seven specific steps the United States can take to secure Afghanistan’s future and prevent the reemergence of Taliban rule.

CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman last month laid out what is needed for a successful U.S. transition out of Afghanistan and to ensure stability there in the future in testimony to the House Armed Services oversight subcommittee.

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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