Where’s Romney? Afghanistan Edition
Posted by Jacob Stokes
As Mitt Romney continues his journey to the front of the GOP field, I thought I’d start a little feature here at DA that looks at Romney’s position on different issues in depth. Today’s pick: Afghanistan. Dan Balz has a great first look at this issue over at the Post.
Romney’s central criticism of the president’s policy on Afghanistan is his failure to “listen to the generals” before making the call last July to withdraw the 33,000 “surge” troops by the end of 2012. (Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that such criticism is misguided.) Romney suggested in his speech last week that, “I will order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military to secure that nation’s sovereignty from the tyranny of the Taliban. I will speak with our generals in the field and receive the best recommendation of our military commanders. The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics.”
That quote suggests that Romney would ask the generals what they need and simply order what the generals say is needed. Such a criticism would, in his mind, be “free from politics.”
But as Balz points out, Romney has also suggested that troop commitments are ultimately the president’s decision. He said, “I would listen to the generals and receive the input of those who are the commanders in the field, and then I would make my own decision.” In other words, he’d do what Obama did.
In addition to the flip-flop here, Romney also has a couple other issues to contend with. Most of the news coverage assumes that Romney’s review would come to the conclusion that some level of troop drawdown was warranted. But if Romney ordered a review, it’s not out of the question that he’d get a request for increased resources to complete the mission. No military commander has ever asked for fewer resources to complete a mission. So the question should really be: Would Romney consider more troops to help achieve the mission in Afghanistan?
After all, the resources needed to complete the mission depend on how it’s defined. Romney, in his speech last week, seemed to define the mission as preventing the Taliban from gaining any political power in Afghanistan, a much more expansive mission than has been set out by the Obama administration, which has made a point of delineating between the Taliban and al Qaeda. He said, “After the United States and NATO have withdrawn all forces, will the Taliban find a path back to power? After over a decade of American sacrifice in treasure and blood, will the country sink back into the medieval terrors of fundamentalist rule and the mullahs again open a sanctuary for terrorists?”
In addition to the question of troop commitments, Romney has failed to address the much larger issue on Afghanistan: How to create a functioning government. Especially in light of the news today that the Afghan government has been engaged in systemic abuse and torture of prisoners, figuring out how to create a reliable partner government is arguably just as, if not more, important than achieving military victory over the Taliban.
At bottom, Romney wants all the political upside of this issue – Listen to the generals! Defeat our enemies! – without any of the political downside – more troops, more money, grim chances of success as he defines it. The voters deserve a chance to weigh the pros and cons of Romney’s position against President Obama’s. Will they get that chance?
Photo: IAVA Flickr