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On Afghanistan—What Did Mitt Mean?

4:30 PM, Jun 14, 2011 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Jen Rubin of the Washington Post reached out to Romney’s campaign and got the following statement from Eric Fehrnstrom. “Governor Romney supported the entry into Afghanistan and the surge to prevent the country from being a launching pad for terror. What he wants to see now is Afghan leadership step up in a way that’s been missing. They need to show the passion for liberty that is essential for independence.” (TWS also sought clarification and got the same statement.)

She writes: “Well, that doesn’t sound like he’s bugging out prematurely or that he thinks the war was misguided at its inception.”

Romney was asked about his views on Afghanistan at a hardware store in New Hampshire this morning. He once again said that the decision on a timetable should be made not based on politics or budgets, but conditions on the ground. (Afghanistan comments come at roughly 4:00.)

Ben Smith at Politico took these comments to mean that Romney wants to get out of Afghanistan even more quickly than the White House. I think they can be read as making the opposite point – that a precipitous withdrawal (based on politics or economics) would be unwise.

In conversations with people familiar with Romney’s thinking, I’m told he is not looking for a quick and easy way out of Afghanistan. His warning about not seeking an exit because of politics or budgets was meant to contrast – not echo – the White House. It has been widely reported that the White House’s decision making on Afghanistan has been driven by domestic political concerns. And over the past two weeks, we’ve seen numerous stories about the White House sudden concern about spending. And, importantly, Romney’s comments can be seen as a challenge to those in his own party who are seeking to end the war in Afghanistan rather than win it. 

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