Mitt Romney’s cautious remarks about US involvement in Afghanistan during Monday night’s New Hampshire GOP debate continue to draw fire from fellow Republicans.
However, the flak may stem more from from his current frontrunner status rather than his actual position on the American-NATO mission.
“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 in the debate. “One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence.”
This intimation of a US withdrawal sparked an immediate lambasting from more hawkish GOP elements and Romney’s camp has been scurrying to both qualify and clarify his remarks ever since the Granite State face-off between seven of the Republican presidential hopefuls.
“This is not a war of independence, this is a war to protect America’s national vital security interests,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday before going on to draw unflattering comparisons between Romney and the administration of former President Jimmy Carter.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty takes a tougher stance on Afghanistan than Romney. He has said, “We are committed to be there until [the] objectives are met” and he wouldn’t be opposed to sending more troops.
However, other serious GOP contenders have espoused similar views to Romney’s on Afghanistan but have not received the same bad press as the former Massachussetts Governor.
Former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has referred to a drawdown of US forces in Afhanistan as “inevitable”, adding, “I would tell you that we have to evaluate very carefully our presence in Afghanistan, and my inclination would be to say that it is a heavy and very expensive presence we have on the ground. That at a point in time where we need to be looking at our asymmetrical threats, what we have in Afghanistan today is not consistent with how we ought to be responding.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann has also expressed a desire to pull the plug on the decade-long mission : “I’m tired of Afghanistan and Iraq, too,” she said. “I think we need to get out. I think Afghanistan is — on many, many levels, it doesn’t seem we’re gaining any ground. I want to reduce US exposure in Afghanistan. So, let’s get them out as quickly as we can.”
So why is Romney the only candidate getting heat for his views on a possible withdrawal?
Romney has consistently led the pack of GOP presidential contenders, with a June 11 Gallup poll putting him in the lead with 24 percent of Republican support. People expect him to fill the role he already inhabits in the polls: a Republican leader.
Romney’s doveish stance on Afghanistan has upset senior GOP figures — including the more hawkish Lindsey Graham — not because it’s substantively different than that of other candidates, but because he may actually be the party flag-bearer in 2012.