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Barack and Mitt: Listen to Leon

10:50 AM, Aug 15, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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One of the minor disgraces of this year's campaign is that the presidential candidates act as if the war in Afghanistan doesn't exist. We have 84,000 troops fighting over there in very difficult circumstances; they've had a tough few weeks, with 41 killed in the last month, but the candidates barnstorm the country with barely a mention of the war or the troops.

Panetta Leon

President Obama typically has a line or two like this in his speeches (this is what he said Sunday night in Colorado): "We’ve set a timeline to end the war in Afghanistan, to make Afghans responsible for their own security.  And we could not have done all this if it had not been for our outstanding men and women in uniform." It's better than nothing. But the president speaks as if the efforts of our men and women in uniform occurred in the past ("we could not have done all this if it had not been..."). And he seems to feel no need to defend his strategy, or to address the obvious fact that his precipitate drawdown—against the recommendation of his military commanders—has made the fight much tougher for our troops, who are stretched too thin and who have to deal with a situation in which the Afghan people, and the enemy, think we're getting out rather than fighting to win.

Mitt Romney has been no better. He didn't visit Afghanistan—or any U.S. troops—on his foreign trip. He didn't mention the war or the troops Saturday, when he spoke, after all, from the deck of a (decommissioned) battleship. Nor do the war and the troops warrant a mention in his standard stump speech—see for example, his remarks last night in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Both the president and his challenger might benefit from this counsel by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who said at Tuesday's Pentagon press briefing:

"I realize that there are a lot of other things going on around this country that can draw our attention, from the Olympics, to political campaigns to droughts, to some of the tragedies we’ve seen in communities around the country. I thought it was important to remind the American people that there is a war going on...I just want the American people to take the time and reflect on these sacrifices. At a time when I am sure there is an awful lot to be mad about, there’s a lot to be proud of when it comes to our men and women in uniform."

Is it too much to ask both candidates for commander in chief to take a minute in their appearances to express that pride in our troops—and to take another minute to explain how their policies will seek to ensure their sacrifices will have been worthwhile? We're asking a lot more, after all, of our men and women in uniform.  

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