Foreign Affairs

Romney and Afghanistan

Romney and Afghanistan

The Washington Post notes that “Mitt Romney became the first Republican since 1952 to accept his party’s nomination without mentioning war.”  According to the Post, “neither Romney nor his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, had anything to say about terrorism or war while on their party’s biggest stage.”

It’s true that Romney didn’t specifically mention Afghanistan (or Iraq) in his speech at the Republican National Convention, but he did discuss several national security issues.  Romney said that Obama’s “trillion dollar cuts to our military will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, and also put our security at greater risk.”

And he strongly criticized Obama for dealing poorly with the Iranian nuclear threat, which he said makes “every American less secure today.”  Most memorable, Romney said of Obama: “In his first TV interview as President, he said we should talk to Iran.  We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Washington Post article and similar press coverage folds neatly into an attack from the Obama campaign, which used a web video to say that “at a time when 84,000 American men and women are fighting for their country in Afghanistan,” Romney’s acceptance speech included “not a single mention of how, or when, to bring them home safely.”

Whatever the significance of Afghanistan going unmentioned in Romney and Ryan’s acceptance speeches, it is not a topic Romney has avoided on the campaign trail.  As Romney spokesman Ryan Williams pointed out: “The day before his convention speech, Governor Romney traveled to the American Legion national convention – an invitation the President declined – because Gov. Romney views any opportunity to stand with those who have served as a privilege. In contrast, President Obama has failed in his duty as Commander in Chief to win the home front. Unlike any wartime president in memory, he has failed to consistently and forthrightly speak about the war in Afghanistan to the American people. The Obama campaign’s attack on Governor Romney today is another attempt to politicize the war in Afghanistan, a war in which President Obama has dangerously based his decisions on political calculations, endangering our mission.”

The American Legion gave Romney a very warm reception at its convention in Indianapolis, and some members grumbled openly about President Obama expecting them to settle for a videotaped message while Romney attended in person.  “I have to take into consideration that at least [Romney] bothered to come and talk to 10,000 veterans when Obama didn’t have the time,” the Indianapolis Star quotes one Legion member saying.

The Star reports Romney received a standing ovation from the assembled veterans.  They were particularly pleased that Romney spoke about increasing employment opportunities for returning veterans, blocking budget cuts to the military, reforming the VA, and opposing Obama’s plans to increase premiums for the Tricare program for veterans’ health care.  Obama’s good friends at the AFL-CIO sent a squad of activists to protest outside the American Legion event.

And the Romney people are correct to note that Obama isn’t exactly rushing to the microphones to talk about Afghanistan these days, either.  He’s had very little to say about the rising tide of “green on blue” attacks, in which Afghan troops suddenly turn their guns on the American soldiers who had been training them.  When Obama does address the subject, he offers nothing but the kind of vague platitudes his campaign is needling Romney over.

For example, he told an August 21 press conference he was “deeply concerned about this, from top to bottom” and, after noting that the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces means “our troops are in much closer contact with Afghan troops on an ongoing basis,” Obama helpfully explained that “part of what we’ve got to do is make sure that this model works, but it doesn’t make our guys more vulnerable.”

That sounds great, but green-on-blue attacks have risen 10 percent in the past two years.  Three more NATO soldiers were just gunned down last week.  The model does not appear to be working.  Does that sound like something President Obama should be boasting about at his convention?  How about the ongoing investigation of dangerous national security leaks, which appear to have emanated from the White House for political purposes?

Mitt Romney has consistently made two strong criticisms of Obama’s Afghanistan policy: he thinks it was a mistake to set an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal far in advance, and let the enemy know about it; and he thinks Obama’s haste to get a withdrawal under way has left our troops, and the unsteady government they fought to secure, exposed to unacceptable risks.  Obama and his media allies expose their own deep insecurity about the President’s record in the War on Terror, and Obama’s nearly hysterical insistence that the death of Osama bin Laden insulates him from all foreign policy criticism, by piling on Romney because he didn’t throw a few lines about Afghanistan into his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.  This is a topic more properly addressed in debate between the two candidates, and there is every reason to believe it will be.

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