A top foreign policy adviser to the Republican ticket in 2008 had some advice Monday for 2012 candidates who appear to be sounding the alarm in Afghanistan after Saturday's massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier.
"You've got to be in this for the long haul,'' said Randy Scheunemann, who is not aligned with any of the current candidates. "Pulling the plug, which Newt Gingrich seems to be advocating and Rick Santorum seems to be walking up to that line, would be a very dangerous decision. You can't do that lightly. You've got to think about the consequences...I understand it's unpopular, but the statesmanship and leadership expected of a presidential candidate means they put an assessment of national interests first and foremost.''
In an interview Monday morning on NBC's "Today" show, the typically hawkish Santorum said, "Any time you have such a shocking development, I think it's important to take a look and see what the situation is and whether it's possible to continue on...Given all of these additional problems, we have to either make the decision to make a full commitment, which this president has not done, or we have to decide to get out and probably get out sooner given the president's decision to get out in 2014."
Though he didn't call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, Gingrich said Sunday that the U.S. is going to "have to back off that region."
Their comments come in the wake of a new Washington Post/ABC news poll in which 60 percent say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. Asked whether the U.S. should withdraw its military troops even if the Afghan army is not adequately trained, 54 percent said yes.
These poll numbers collide against the GOP's traditionally hawkish posture. The frontrunner for the nomination, Mitt Romney, has yet to comment on Saturday's violence, possibly reflecting the difficult political considerations of the conflict.
"You're either in it to win or you shouldn't be in, and that would be my advice to the Republican candidates,'' Scheunemann said. "If you look at the decisions Obama has made, we're not in it to win. We're in it to get out. He's always been exit strategy driven."