You probably didn’t have the patience to sit through the Republican candidates’ debate on Saturday on foreign policy and national security, but if you are a glutton for punishment you can read the transcript. It’s full of the usual, know-nothing comments by the odd collection of GOPers seeking the nomination, including bluster on Iran (covert operations! regime change! bomb ‘em!) and support for torture, including waterboarding, by various candidates, including floundering Rick Perry, who said, “I will be for it until I die.”
But on Afghanistan, the Republican tone continues to be less and less bellicose.
Except for Perry, who has apparently decided that the only way he can rescue his campaign is with huge quantities of red meat for the hungry faithful, and who was one of the few on stage at the CBS-sponsored debate to demand victory. “The mission must be completed there,” he said. “The idea that we will have wasted our treasure and the lives of young Americans to not secure Afghanistan is not appropriate. [And] the idea that we would give a timetable to our enemy is irresponsible from a military standpoint, it’s irresponsible from the lives of our young men and women. And it is irresponsible leadership of this president to give a timetable to pull out of any country that we’re in conflict with. I think we’re makin’ progress there.… I think that our military is doin’ the best job that they can—considering—the lack of support that they’re getting from this administration—telegraphing to the enemy when we’re gonna pull out.”
Perry had few co-thinkers, if you can call what he said thinking. Or thinkin’.
Like Perry, Mitt Romney tried to slam Obama for his decision to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces, but in the end Romney simply quibbled over a few months. “The commander in chief, perhaps looking at the calendar of the election, decided to bring [the surge forces] home in September , instead, in the middle of the fighting season. Our commanders said that puts our troops at risk, at danger, ‘Please don’t pull ’em out there,’ they said. But he said, ‘No, I’m gonna get ’em out early.’ I think that was a mistake. Our surge troops should have been withdrawn by December of next year, not by September. And the timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces.” In other words, Romney is okay with the 2014 deadline, and he’s just fussing over a pullout in September instead of December.
Romney did, however, insist that he won’t negotiate. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists. I do not negotiate with the Taliban.” Since a large part of the rationale for the 2014 timetable is to strike a deal for a political settlement before that, obviously involving the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, Romney might have to rethink that.