Afghanistan

What Is Mitt Romney's Plan for Afghanistan?

Good luck figuring it out from the party's recent convention, which offered conflicting views.

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What does the Republican Party or its presidential nominee think about the war in Afghanistan?

Good luck figuring it out from the party's recent convention, which offered conflicting views.

At the convention's Thursday night climax, actor Clint Eastwood made Afghanistan part of his critique of President Obama. Eastwood faulted President Obama, and implicitly, George W. Bush, by saying, "We didn't check with the Russians to see how they did there for 10 years." He ignored the distinction that Russia was fighting to subjugate Afghanistan to Communism, while America was responding to a terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon that was planned in Afghanistan.

Eastwood went on, addressing the empty chair that stood in for Obama, "I think you've mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home and you give that target date, and I think Romney asked the only sensible question. He says, 'Why are you giving the date out now? Why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning?' And I thought — I thought, yeah."

The impression left was that Mitt Romney favors bringing America's troops home from Afghanistan "tomorrow morning."

Yet earlier, at the same convention, Senator McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee four years earlier, said, "By committing to withdraw from Afghanistan, the president has discouraged and emboldened our enemies, which is why our commanders did not recommend these decisions, and why they have said it puts our mission at much greater risk."

As Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News points out, the same 2014 timetable that Eastwood and McCain are criticizing is one that Romney himself endorsed in a November 2011 Republican primary debate, in which he said, "The timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces."

Knox quotes a Romney campaign spokeswoman, Amanda Henneberg, as saying Romney still supports the 2014 goal. The Romney campaign Web site page on Afghanistan and Pakistan does not mention that timetable, however, and Romney himself did not mention the Afghanistan war in his Republican convention speech.

A generous interpretation of all this is that the Republicans are a big-tent party that is confident enough to allow differing opinions on important questions. Another generous interpretation would be that Romney wants to keep the enemy confused about his plans.

A more cynical interpretation would be that the Romney campaign is intentionally keeping American voters confused about his plans. He's trying to win the votes of Afghanistan hawks and Afghanistan doves at the same time, while deferring until after the election the question about what actually to do about the war, a decision that is bound to displease either the hawks or the doves.

Not that President Obama has been any clearer.

On Sunday President Obama told a Colorado crowd, "We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. And I've set a timetable. We will have them all out of there by 2014." Then, about two hours later, Politico reports, White House press secretary Jay Carney walked back the president's remarks: "He never said that all the troops would be out."

As William Kristol observes, "More than 68,000 troops are deployed to Afghanistan," and "More than 2,000 Americans have died in over 10 years of fighting." And as Michael Ledeen reports, "military moms and dads" are saying: "if we're going to fight, so be it. But if we're retreating, then why are you leaving … one-tenth of our guys to endure the inevitable slaughter our enemies are so eager to inflict on us?"

I'm all for a campaign season that turns on questions of economic growth and, relatedly, the federal budget. But military spending is a factor in the federal budget. And past experience (George W. Bush, Franklin Roosevelt) is a reminder that sometimes even presidents elected on economic policy find themselves thrust by world events into military or foreign policy crises.

Obama has a record of nearly four years by which voters can judge him on these matters. And perhaps the upcoming presidential debates will help to clarify Romney's positions in a way the convention did not. Ambiguity can have its advantages for candidates and even, at times, for presidents. But for a voter trying to figure out whether a President Romney would withdraw from Afghanistan on Clint Eastwood's timetable of tomorrow, on the Romney campaign spokeswoman's and President Obama's (but not Obama's spokesman's) timetable of 2014, or on Senator McCain's no-timetable timetable, a little help from the candidate would go a long way.

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  1. “The impression left was that Mitt Romney favors bringing America’s troops home from Afghanistan “tomorrow morning.””

    My impression was that Mitt Romney thinks it’s stupid to announce your plans to the enemy. I think an idiot might believe Romney favors bringing the troops home tomorrow.

  2. A question for anyone who thinks we shouldn’t pull out of Afghanistan today.

    How would you know if we’ve won?

    How would you know if, today, we finally “won” in Afghanistan, and therefore could bring home all the troops, contractors and attendant baggage?

    If you don’t have an answer, want to rely on a gut instinct, or say something like “when it seems stable,” or just have a very imprecise answer, I’d ask how many Pashtun and Dari speaking ex-humans need to pile up before you start to have some doubts about your inexactitude.

    We know this conflict is damaging thousands of their lives, each month, but our So Brave, Ultra-Liberal, Secular Humanist media keeps their misery from us.

    1. I guess I see a difference between “tomorrow” and “as soon as the military possibly could.”

      I don’t think that we’ll ever win anything in Afghanistan– at this point we’re only managing our losses. And pulling out of Afghanistan in a day (or a week) wouldn’t make us any less culpable for the violence that would accompany the struggle to fill our power vacuum.

      I think steadily reducing our troop levels over the next year would probably result in less violence than pulling them all out tomorrow. But I’ll admit that’s an imperfect estimate, and it’s possible that pulling out tomorrow would be the best for everyone.

      1. And pulling out of Afghanistan in a day (or a week) wouldn’t make us any less culpable for the violence that would accompany the struggle to fill our power vacuum.

        Not sure where that us comes from. I, personally, feel absolutely no culpability for what is happening, or might happen in the future, in Afghanistan.

        I supported the original attack in spirit, but no the open ended hation-building, reformist enterprize that Bush et al undertook in order to buy support from our NATO allies and various domestic liberal constituencies.

        Assigning some kind of collective responsibility for Afghanistan on the whole population of the USA (why not Western Europe, Canada and Australia, as well) is nonsense.

        The responsibility for everything that has happened there rests squarely on the bipartsan leadership which cannot apparently see another country without feeling the urge to step in and try to make its people like us.

        If the US could withdraw tomorrow its people would not be to blame for events there. Unfortunately none of the people responsible for the Afghan fiasco will ever suffer. They will continue to be revered as grand statesmen and will continue to occupy positions in the highest circles of political power.

    2. Color me cynical, but I care a lot more about the money and American lives we’re pissing away in Afghanistan with no clear vision of what exactly we are doing there and what conditions would represent our “victory” than I am about what damage our presence is doing in a country that’s been an ungovernable wasteland of primitivism since before ours even existed.

      The result is the same though.

      “Winning” in Afghanistan should have been represented by a lot of large, smoking craters with the bodies and appendages of terrorists and their institutional enables scattered around them. We’ve done as much of that as we have the palate for, so it’s time to cut the cord.

      1. My sentiments exactly, although I’d like to make one minor addendum: to the best of my knowledge, Afghanistan was actually an okay place before the Soviets and Pakis wrecked it. Fuck Pakistan. I’d also add that I think whatever we drop, India will pick up. Fuck Pakistan.

  3. Reason, still justifying US invasion of Afghanistan. Wrong then, wrong now.

    1. How dare America defend herself!

      1. “Reforming” Afghanistan has zero to do with the defense of the USA.

        Any defensive elements of the attack were complete when substantial portions of the country had been reduced to rubble and the government had been given the message that if they ever supported anyone acting against the US again the same thing would happen.

        Instead we a now facing a reinvigorated Taliban which will almost certainly take over when we leave, whether we do so tomorrow or in a hundred years.

  4. Nixon pulled the same shit on me in 1968 as I was on my way to Vietnam, I was expecting that war to be over by the time he was sworn in.

    1. Er he did pretty much win it.

      1. Interesting definition of victory you have there.

  5. He ignored the distinction that Russia was fighting to subjugate Afghanistan to Communism, while America was responding to a terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon that was planned in Afghanistan.

    To the people who live there–who had nothing to do with what happened in New York–it’s a distinction without a difference. Likewise it’s going to end up for Private Smith just as it did for Private Popov. No amount of chest beating by the 101st Chairborne Division is going to make it any different.

    1. Comparing the US occupational experience to the Soviet one is pretty absurd. The Soviet military was inferior and until Stingers started finding their way into the right hands, they were killing it in Afghanistan. Then they started losing fixed-wing aircraft at a high rate and got it much worse than America has had it while over there.

      1. There are many differences but I don’t think it’s going to end any better.

      2. The Soviet military was inferior? How do we know? The Soviets had a respectable military, but one must remember that the Soviets were fighting the Afghans and the CIA, financed and equipped by billions of dollars worth of arms sent by the Americans, courtesy of the Reagan administration.

  6. I love this stuff:

    Clint Eastwood is a washed-up B-grade actor and senile racist white man. Having an empty chair next to him on stage while he pretended to talk to a non-existent Barack Obama supposedly sitting in that chair was pure and obvious racism. It was intended to make our President seem small, inconsequential, like a black man who doesn’t count, or counts at most as 3/5 of a person according to historical documents.

    Eastwood’s chair rant was RACIST, the white man putting dirty words into mouth of black man like a little black puppet. The minstrel show quality of a white men speaking for a black man and making him look foul.

    Watch the racist Eastwood video again, a white man would never be demeaned like this. This is clearly code for society’s assumption that black men cannot be taken seriously and are not up to the job. Towering above the empty chair Eastwood talked down to an imaginary Barack Obama. A black man does not need to be talked down to by a white man. The unspoken signal there was that he was calling him “boy”. Absolutely RACIST!!!

    1. Nice, sage. Liberal sociologists couldn’t have written it better.

    2. Bravo[applause].

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  8. A generous interpretation of all this is that the Republicans are a big-tent party that is confident enough to allow differing opinions on important questions. Another generous interpretation would be that Romney wants to keep the enemy confused about his plans.

  9. The thing Romney said are too exciting and favors the elections but the truth is that these American soldiers was sent by the president George bush who is the team mate of Mitt, what he said about this.

    1. The American soldiers now in Afghanistan were sent there by President Barack Obama.

      There have been at least two full rotations of military pesonel out of Afghanistan since the Exulted One took office. The time that it was all Bush’s fault expired long ago.

      1. Keep dreaming…you’re living in the nightmare created by Bush. The consequences of his Presidency remain with us. And not just the debt and the economic collapse, but also the simple fact that he inherited balanced budgets and then proceeded to blow them up. And now we see how hard it is to get that mindset back.
        Bush- the worst President in our lifetime. One can’t say it enough.

  10. It’s just incredible that there are still people who believe that the Afghans will fall in love with the U.S. government and its puppet in Kabul, to the extent that they’ll fight and die for it.

    Gee, all we have to do is train them some more! Shucks, it’s only been ten years! Maybe after another fifty or hundred years, they’ll stop shooting our boys after we hand rifles to them!

    Yeah, keep dreaming.

  11. More to the point, what is Romney’s plan for Iran. Well, we know what that is…another war with money borrowed from China.

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