Mitt Romney’s hint in Monday night’s Republican debate that he’s eager to pull the plug on the war in Afghanistan left some of his GOP allies puzzled, Democrats sensing an opportunity, and his staff working to explain what he meant.
“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. “One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence.”
The remark came at a time when American voters are telling pollsters they’re tiring of U.S. interventions in the Muslim world, and as President Barack Obama’s unexpectedly broad military engagement has drawn sharp criticism from some GOP leaders. Other would-be GOP candidates – notably Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour— have flirted with staking out an anti-war, isolationist counterpoint to Obama’s internationalism, but the doubts from Romney surprised some of his allies.
Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said her inbox was flooded Tuesday morning with emails calling Romney’s comments a “disaster.”
“I’d thought of Romney as a mainstream Republican – supporting American strength and American leadership, but this doesn’t reflect that,” she said. “Romney has proven himself a little bit of a weathervane and I guess he senses that positioning himself in this place is good for his campaign — attempting to appease Ron Paul’s constituents without actually being Ron Paul.”
“You can’t really triangulate on these issues. Either you think we’re fighting a war we need to win or you think we ought to bring all the troops home, but he said it all there,” Pletka said.
Other Republicans did not want to be quoted out of party loyalty and fear of the front runner.