Mitt Romney has struggled to explain why he omitted Afghanistan and the American troops stationed there during his big speech at the Republican National Convention. Ahead of Romney’s Tuesday address to the National Guard Association Convention, retired Gen. Wesley Clark said the exclusion shows Romney’s not ready to lead America’s military.
“Mitt Romney’s failure to mention Afghanistan and his comments about how his speech included the things you think are important is more than an omission,” Clark said on an Obama campaign conference call Monday. “It reveals a severe lack of understanding about the job as president, doesn’t reflect well on what kind of leadership you would bring and frankly it’s just unbecoming of someone who wants to become commander-in-chief.”
Romney has offered multiple explanations for failing to mention Afghanistan in his convention speech. First, he said the speech wasn’t “a laundry list” and that “you talk about the things you think are important” in speeches. A couple days later, in an interview that aired on “Meet the Press,” Romney said that a foreign policy speech he gave several days before his Tampa address — in which he devoted 15 seconds or so out of 16 minutes to Afghanistan — was enough.
“You know, what I’ve found is that wherever I go, I am speaking to tens of millions of people. Everything I say is picked up by you and by others and that’s the way it ought to be,” Romney said. “So I went to the American Legion and spoke with our veterans there, and described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan and other foreign policy and our military.”
Clark said that explanation didn’t pass muster either, because those speeches didn’t mention America’s continued fight against the terrorist group that perpetrated the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Not only did he ignore discussion Afghanistan in his campaign speech, in his two major foreign policy speeches during the campaign, he failed to mention al Qaeda,” Clark said. “Not once.”
It’s difficult to say what impact the Afghanistan omission will have on Romney’s support among veterans. There’s scant recent polling on where veterans stand, but a Gallup survey from May showed Romney with a big lead among veterans, in keeping with exit polling from both 2004 and 2008 showing Republicans winning the veterans voting bloc.
The Obama campaign pointed to May polling from Reuters (using online methodology generally seen as less reliable than traditional telephone polling by experts) that showed Obama leading among vets. The Obama campaign noted its outreach efforts to veterans on the conference call and said it is working to turn out more veterans.
Clark acknowledged that Democrats can’t typically rely on veterans to support their candidates, but he told TPM on the call that may be changing under Obama.
“Veterans have a had a long record of leaning toward the Republican Party going back to World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans who have habitually leaned away from Democrats toward Republicans,” he said. “They don’t vote on a single issues but they do take note of the strength of the president’s leadership on national security and they approve of it and they take note of the strength of his support for veterans and they appreciate it. And I think you will see those numbers change.”