Mitt Romney both dislikes and supports President Obama’s announced decision to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan. At a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Tuesday, Romney endorsed a NATO-supported goal of Afghanistan force reduction by 2014 but hit Obama for “a politically timed retreat.”
It’s an old Romney saw, one that he’s repeated on the campaign trail several times. Team Romney told Foreign Policy last month that the former Massachusetts governor agrees with the timetable itself, but not with publicizing it.
“Gov. Romney supports the 2014 timetable as a realistic timetable and a residual force post-2014. But he would not have announced that timetable publicly, as President Obama did, as doing so encourages the Taliban to wait us out and our allies to hedge their bets,” a Romney campaign spokesperson told The Cable.
At the VFW, Romney made a similar public declaration of support for the same timetable.
“As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” he told the VFW gathering Tuesday in Reno, according to prepared remarks. “I will evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is not to my political prospects, but to the security of the nation.”
Obama prebutted Romney’s take on Afghanistan in his own VFW speech Monday.
“There are those who argued against a timeline for ending this war — or against talking about it publicly,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript of the speech. “But you know what, that’s not a plan for America’s security either. After 10 years of war, and given the progress we’ve made, I felt it was important that the American people — and our men and women in uniform — know our plan to end this war responsibly.”
Apart from its sort-of agreement with Obama, the Romney campaign has been mostly uninterested in discussing specifics on Afghanistan. A Romney adviser called scrutiny of Romney’s still-vague Afghanistan policy a distraction from talk of the economy.
Another area of agreement between Obama and Romney is that neither has a real plan for what to do after 2014. Obama has said all troops will be out of the country by then; Romney leaves the door open to a longer stay based on what commanders on the ground decide.
Top Romney foreign policy advisers brushed off criticisms that the campaign should get more specific on Afghanistan during a conference call Tuesday, noting that Afghanistan policy was not easy for the White House to craft.
“They want to try to force Gov. Romney to go into more and more detail in part because they don’t want to go back to their record,” longtime Republican diplomat Rich Williamson, a Romney adviser, said on the call. “In March of ‘09 the president finished a review and made a policy decision. By August he decided to re-initiate a review because the election in Afghanistan had not been free and fair … it’s understandable that he wants to divert attention because he owns a record that is very spotty and ineffective in Afghanistan.”
“When you look at President Obama, he has made decisions of war and peace in Afghanistan seemingly made on politics,” Romney foreign policy adviser Alex Wong said. “Gov. Romney wouldn’t do that. He would look to a successful transition to the Afghan security forces based on the ground and the best advice from military commanders and unlike Barack Obama he would work with and consider the advice of the military commanders and not disregard it to announce troop levels that are more attuned to a political calendar then they are to a strategy.”
But the other Romney advisers on the call reiterated that means basically he’d do the same thing as Obama.
Williamson said Romney “plans to have us out by 2014” and has “laid out the principles by which he’d do it.”
He then turned the attention back to attacking Obama over leaks, which got far more play in Romney’s speech than Afghanistan.