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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Updated)

Reaction to President Obama's Afghanistan speech.

9:37 PM, Jun 22, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The Good:

Barack Obama

Tim Pawlenty: "Placing politics over principle, President Obama's speech tonight is a continuation of his weak and ineffective foreign policy.  I opposed President Obama's decision in 2009 to announce a timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and I oppose it again now.  By overruling the best judgment of our military commanders in the field, the President has chosen to increase the chances that our mission may fall short of our goals.  I am alarmed to see America’s national security interests taking a back seat to partisan politics.  As President, I would draw down troops in Afghanistan as circumstances on the ground warrant, and I would respect the advice of our military commanders in the field.  We are in Afghanistan to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a terrorist sanctuary, and the greatest duty of a commander in chief is to provide for the safety and security of the American people."

Rep. Mike Rogers: "I am concerned about the President’s plan to begin troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. We are in a very precarious place in Afghanistan right now.  It seems the President is trying to find a political solution with a military component to it, when it needs to be the other way around. As the troop levels go lower we put more of a burden on the remaining troops, and we increase risk in a number of areas.  The most significant risk is to our remaining troops’ safety.  We also risk letting the Taliban regain ground they lost in the last fighting season, because we will be able to cover less ground.  There is also the risk this drawdown will send the wrong message to both the Taliban and our Afghan allies that U.S. commitment to finish the job is wavering. The handwringing we are seeing in some corners of Washington is astoundingly similar to the panic we saw in the early stages of the Iraq surge.  We have a good strategy in Afghanistan – we just need the political courage here in Washington to see it through."

Senator Joe Lieberman: "Because I agree with President Obama that the surge in American troops to Afghanistan that he ordered in 2009 has enabled us and our allies to make great progress on the ground there, I am disappointed by the pace and timing of the withdrawal of those troops the President announced tonight.   I had hoped the President would  draw down our forces more cautiously and am therefore concerned that the  accelerated withdrawal which the President has ordered will put at risk the substantial gains we have made in Afghanistan. Our troops are in the middle of the fighting season in Afghanistan now which makes this a questionable time to begin to reduce their numbers. The fighting season ends in October and that would be the best time to begin drawing down our forces. I would then wait until the end of next year's fighting season to begin to withdraw all our remaining surge forces and that could be accomplished by the end of 2012 or early 2013."

The Bad

Jon Huntsman: "With America mired in three expensive conflicts, we have a generational opportunity to reset our position in the world in a way that makes sense for our security as well as our budget. The war in Afghanistan is an asymmetrical war, and our approach ought to adjust accordingly. Our troops have done everything we've asked them to. They've routed the Taliban, dismantled Al Qaeda, and facilitated democratic elections. Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight. We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility, while leaving in place a strong counter intelligence and special forces effort proportionate to the threat. The War on Terror is being fought against a global enemy, and it is critical that we have the resources to fight them wherever they're found."

Mitt Romney: “We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. This decision should not be based on politics or economics. America’s brave men and women in uniform have fought to achieve significant progress in Afghanistan, some having paid the ultimate price. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our military commanders in the days ahead.”

And the Ugly:

President Barack Obama: "Thanks to our men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda's leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11. One soldier summed it up well. 'The message,' he said, 'is we don't forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.'"

UPDATE: Senator Marco Rubio just issued a good statement on the Afghanistan drawdown:

“Our ultimate goal in Afghanistan should be to give the Afghan people a chance to build a lasting viable state. This is not about nation-building for the sake of doing so. This is in our vital national interests for two reasons. First, because an unstable Afghanistan will once again become a safe haven for Al Qaeda to operate from. Second, an unstable Afghanistan would become a base of operations for radical Islamic insurgents who seek to take control of Pakistan. A nuclear Pakistan in the hands of a radical Islamic government  would be a catastrophic development.

“This is a part of the world where leaders always hedge their bets. Even the slightest impression that the United States is looking to get out is devastating. It is one of the reasons why Pakistan continues to undermine our efforts to target Al Qaeda. It also discourages tribal leaders in Afghanistan from cooperating with us to defeat the Taliban, and it encourages the Taliban to keep on fighting.

“Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It is about the bigger fight against Al Qaeda and radical Islamic terrorism.

“After a decade of fighting, the American people are weary of war. Facing massive unemployment and a growing national debt, they are weary of the effort’s cost. So am I. But the answer to a bad situation is not to make it worse. And I have always believed that a troop withdrawal plan based not on progress towards our ultimate goal, but rather on a desire to hit certain numbers, would be a tragic mistake.

“Yes, American troops need to leave Afghanistan, but they should do so pursuant to a plan that accomplishes our vital goal. I hope that in the days to come, the President will more clearly articulate how his troop withdrawal plan does that.”

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