Politics

Afghanistan Divides GOP Candidates

Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
June 22, 2011, 1:38 p.m.

The hawk­ish for­eign-policy con­sensus that held the Re­pub­lic­an Party to­geth­er dur­ing the 2008 elec­tion has shattered, with the field of can­did­ates vy­ing for the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion ex­press­ing dia­met­ric­ally op­posed views on Afgh­anistan. The dif­fer­ences re­flect the fis­sures between the party’s for­eign-policy and fisc­al hawks, with soar­ing de­fi­cits and a strug­gling eco­nomy help­ing eco­nom­ic con­cerns to sup­plant for­eign-policy ones.

Last week’s pres­id­en­tial de­bate, the primary sea­son’s second, brought those de­vel­op­ing dif­fer­ences in­to stark con­trast for the first time. The early primary front-run­ner, former Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, sur­prised many dur­ing last week’s de­bate when he said Amer­ica can’t fight a war of in­de­pend­ence for the Afghans.

“It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we pos­sibly can — as soon as our gen­er­als think it’s OK,” Rom­ney said dur­ing the de­bate. “One les­son we”˜ve learned in Afgh­anistan is that Amer­ic­ans can­not fight an­oth­er na­tion’s war of in­de­pend­ence.”

Where­as Rom­ney hedged by leav­ing the de­cision in the gen­er­als’ hands, ex-Utah Gov. Jon Hunts­man took his calls for a draw­down one step fur­ther on Tues­day. In a state­ment is­sued on as the pres­id­ent spoke, Hunts­man — un­til April Obama’s am­bas­sad­or to China — cri­ti­cized his former boss for the slow pace of the mil­it­ary’s with­draw­al in Afgh­anistan.

“Now it is time we move to a fo­cused counter-ter­ror ef­fort which re­quires sig­ni­fic­antly few­er boots on the ground than the Pres­id­ent dis­cussed to­night, Hunts­man said. “With Amer­ica mired in three ex­pens­ive con­flicts, we have a gen­er­a­tion­al op­por­tun­ity to re­set our po­s­i­tion in the world in a way that makes sense for our se­cur­ity as well as our budget.”

The anti-in­ter­ven­tion­ist view­point is one that only Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, ex­pressed dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign. But the fisc­ally fo­cused tea party move­ment, which is wary of con­flicts be­cause of the ac­com­pa­ny­ing high cost, has pushed the dovish stance in­to the GOP main­stream.

That Hunts­man and Rom­ney, along with Paul, have been at the lead­ing edge of with­draw­ing troops is a strong sig­nal of the ap­peal that view might hold among mod­er­ate and more in­de­pend­ent Re­pub­lic­ans. Both can­did­ates have craf­ted cam­paigns de­signed to at­tract sup­port from mod­er­ates, ones that could ex­cel in a gen­er­al elec­tion against the pres­id­ent. And, in­deed, polls show that with­draw­ing troops from Afgh­anistan is pop­u­lar.

A poll from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­leased on Tues­day shows that 56 per­cent of adults sup­port with­draw­ing Amer­ic­an troops im­me­di­ately, com­pared with 39 per­cent who want the U.S. to stay in the coun­try un­til sta­bil­izes — a 16-point shift in fa­vor of pulling out since early May. Even 43 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans say they want to with­draw im­me­di­ately.

The poll, taken from June 15-19, sur­veyed 1,502 adults and had a mar­gin of er­ror of 3.5 per­cent­age points.

“Some people may be ap­peal­ing to the pure polit­ic­al side of this, which is, the Amer­ic­an pub­lic has war fa­tigue,” said Jim Dyke, a GOP polit­ic­al con­sult­ant who worked with Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Haley Bar­bour when he was con­sid­er­ing a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. Bar­bour was one of the first Re­pub­lic­ans to ex­press skep­ti­cism about the con­tin­ued need for U.S. troops in Afgh­anistan.

But not every GOP can­did­ate shares what crit­ics de­ride as that “isol­a­tion­ist” stance, in­dic­at­ing that al­though the Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­ate has shif­ted to a more dovish for­eign policy, plenty of hawks re­main in the party. Former Min­nesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for in­stance, re­vis­ited an old talk­ing point dur­ing an in­ter­view on Tues­day, cri­ti­ciz­ing the pres­id­ent for es­tab­lish­ing a timetable for with­draw­ing U.S. troops.

“I sup­por­ted Pres­id­ent Obama’s de­cision to surge the troops,” Pawlenty told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. “I wish he wouldn’t have sim­ul­tan­eously an­nounced a war with­draw­al dead­line at the same time, I think that sends mixed sig­nals. I think it is ap­pro­pri­ate to re­vis­it the policy now, but it should be based on con­di­tions on the ground, not on some ar­bit­rary polit­ic­al timetable lead­ing up to the elec­tions.”

Rep. Michele Bach­mann, R-Minn., echoed a sim­il­ar mes­sage in a re­cent in­ter­view with The Weekly Stand­ard.

“On Afgh­anistan, I firmly be­lieve that we are at a point where we’ve got to stay the course, and we’ve got to fin­ish the job,” she said. “Re­ports com­ing out of Hel­mand right now are pos­it­ive…. [Gen.] Dav­id Pet­raeus, who wrote the book on coun­ter­insur­gency and on the surge strategy, is suc­cess­fully pro­sec­ut­ing the surge.”

Bach­mann and Pawlenty have been aided in part by the party’s ven­er­able wing of for­eign-policy hawks, in­clud­ing its last pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee John Mc­Cain. The sen­at­or from Ari­zona blas­ted Rom­ney and oth­er GOP can­did­ates as “isol­a­tion­ist” and said they are en­dan­ger­ing the coun­try.

Th­hawk­ish for­eign policy con­sensus that held the Re­pub­lic­an Party to­geth­er dur­ing the 2008 elec­tion has shattered, with the field of can­did­ates vy­ing for the GOP nom­in­a­tion ex­press­ing dia­met­ric­ally op­posed views on Afgh­anistan. The dif­fer­ences re­flect the fis­sures between the party’s for­eign policy and fisc­al hawks, with soar­ing de­fi­cits and a strug­gling eco­nomy help­ing eco­nom­ic con­cerns sup­plant for­eign policy ones.

Last week’s pres­id­en­tial de­bate, the primary’s second, brought those de­vel­op­ing dif­fer­ences in­to stark con­trast for the first time. The early primary front-run­ner Mitt Rom­ney, who sur­prised many dur­ing last week’s de­bate when said Amer­ica can’t fight a war of in­de­pend­ence for the Afgh­anis. “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we pos­sibly can — as soon as our gen­er­als think it’s okay,” Rom­ney said dur­ing the de­bate. “One les­son we”˜ve learned in Afgh­anistan is that Amer­ic­ans can­not fight an­oth­er na­tion’s war of in­de­pend­ence.” Where­as Rom­ney hedged by leav­ing the de­cision in­to the gen­er­als’ hands, ex-Utah gov­ernor Jon Hunts­man took his calls for a draw­down one step fur­ther Tues­day. Speak­ing to NBC’s Today show a day after de­clar­ing his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, Hunts­man cri­ti­cized Pres­id­ent Obama for not the slow pace of the mil­it­ary’s with­draw in Afgh­anistan. “I think that we can prob­ably be more ag­gress­ive,” said the ex-Utah gov­ernor. “We’ve been at this for nine years and 50 days. We put Kar­zai in power, we’ve had demo­crat­ic elec­tions…. We’ve routed the Taliban, we’ve dis­mantled Al-Qaeda.” The anti-in­ter­ven­tion­ist view­point is one that only Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, ex­pressed dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign. But the fisc­ally fo­cused tea party move­ment, which is wary of con­flicts be­cause of the ac­com­pa­ny­ing high cost, have pushed the dovish stance in­to the GOP main­stream. That Hunts­man and Rom­ney, along with Paul, have been at the lead­ing edge of with­draw­ing troops is a strong sig­nal of the ap­peal that view might hold among mod­er­ate and more in­de­pend­ent Re­pub­lic­ans. Both can­did­ates have craf­ted cam­paigns de­signed to at­tract sup­port from more mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, ones that could ex­cel in a gen­er­al elec­tion against the pres­id­ent. And, in­deed, polls show with­draw­ing troops from Afgh­anistan is pop­u­lar. A poll from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­leased Tues­day shows 56 per­cent of adults sup­port with­draw­ing troops im­me­di­ately, com­pared to 39 per­cent who want to stay in the coun­try un­til sta­bil­izes — a 16-point shift in fa­vor of pulling out since early May. Even among Re­pub­lic­ans, 43 per­cent say they want to with­draw im­me­di­ately. The poll, taken from June 15 through June 19, sur­veyed 1,502 adults and had a mar­gin of er­ror of 3.5 per­cent­age points. “Some people may be ap­peal­ing the pure polit­ic­al side of this, which is the Amer­ic­an pub­lic has war fa­tigue,” said Jim Dyke, a Re­pub­lic­an polit­ic­al con­sult­ant who worked with Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Haley Bar­bour when he was con­sid­er­ing a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. Bar­bour was one of the first Re­pub­lic­ans to ex­press skep­ti­cism about the con­tin­ued need for U.S. troops in the Middle East­ern coun­try. But not every GOP can­did­ate shares what crit­ics de­ride as an “isol­a­tion­ist” stance, in­dic­at­ing that al­though the Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­ate has shif­ted to a more dovish for­eign policy, plenty of hawks re­main. Former Min­nesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for in­stance, re­vis­ited an old talk­ing point dur­ing an in­ter­view Tues­day, cri­ti­ciz­ing the pres­id­ent for es­tab­lish­ing a timetable for with­draw­ing U.S. troops. “I sup­por­ted Pres­id­ent Obama’s de­cision to surge the troops,” Pawlenty told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. “I wish he wouldn’t have sim­ul­tan­eously an­nounced a war with­draw­al dead­line at the same time, I think that sends mixed sig­nals. I think it is ap­pro­pri­ate to re­vis­it the policy now, but it should be based on con­di­tions on the ground not on some ar­bit­rary polit­ic­al time table lead­ing up to the elec­tions.”

Rep. Michele Bach­mann, R-Minn., echoed a sim­il­ar mes­sage on Afgh­anistan in a re­cent in­ter­view with the Weekly Stand­ard. “On Afgh­anistan, I firmly be­lieve that we are at a point where we’ve got to stay the course, and we’ve got to fin­ish the job,” she said. “Re­ports com­ing out of Hel­mand right now are pos­it­ive. … Dav­id Pet­raeus, who wrote the book on coun­ter­insur­gency and on the surge strategy, is suc­cess­fully pro­sec­ut­ing the surge.” Bach­mann and Pawlenty have been aided in party by the party’s old wing of for­eign policy hawks, in­clud­ing its last pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee John Mc­Cain. The sen­at­or from Ari­zona blas­ted Rom­ney and oth­er GOP can­did­ates as “isol­a­tion­ist” who are en­dan­ger­ing the coun­try. Read more: ht­tp://www.politico.com/news/stor­ies/0611/56988.html#ixzz1Q2Ibz

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