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GOP Candidates Refuse to Go Wobbly on Afghanistan

10:51 AM, Mar 19, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The two leading GOP candidates were asked about Afghanistan on the Sunday talk shows yesterday. Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum gave pretty good responses and refused to go wobbly on Afghanistan.

"Look, what's happening right now is an example of failed leadership," Romney told Fox News Sunday. "The president put out a specific time table for withdrawal for our troops, a time table for the end of combat operations. That is leading Mr. Karzai to take action that is self preservation in nature. The president needs to be more engaged and interacting with -- not only our commanders there but also with leadership in Afghanistan."

Romney also said that "We have real interest in making sure that this ends well and that our mission is successful there of having a Afghanistan that is able to maintain its sovereignty against the Taliban, against ultimately al Qaeda as well."

For Santorum, the U.S. should win in Afghanistan. "Well, I think if you commit to winning and you change the entire dynamic in the region," Santorum said. "You change the dynamic with respect to the Taliban, and you recognize that we're going to stay there and we're going to finish the job."

And by the way, that may not mean the heavy footprint that we have in Afghanistan right now. There may be, as we did when we initially threw the Taliban out, we did so with a few handfuls of troops, I mean, several hundred troops. There's a lot of ways in which we can play and be an effective actor in that country. And certainly I would work with our experts in that area to see what troop op complement we would need, and work with the Afghan government to make sure that we commit to them to be successful, whatever that -- whatever that means, whatever that's necessary to accomplish.

Santorum also critiqued the policies of the Obama administration. "The bigger issue here is the policy of this administration," the Republican presidential candidate said on ABC's This Week. "The policy of this administration does something you simply can't do if you want to win a war, particularly against a guerrilla insurgence force, and that is give them hope that they can survive. And that's what the president has done from day one that he came into office, where he put a timeline for us to leave Afghanistan. Once you give a timeline, you give the enemy an objective to hold on, to bunker down, if you will, and survive whatever onslaught the United States is going to put forth."

Max Boot, writing in the latest issue of the magazine, warned the Republican candidates not to "go wobbly":

President Obama’s hesitancy and irresolution should not be an excuse for Republicans to abandon the war effort. They should continue to pressure the president to respect the advice of his commanders in the field, who want to keep 68,000 troops through 2014, with a substantial residual presence after that.

What, after all, is the alternative? Peace talks have scant prospect of success given that the Taliban are now betting—perhaps rightly—that they can simply wait us out. The likely result of a precipitous American pullout, which would trigger an equally hasty exit by our NATO allies, would be a major Taliban offensive in the east and south that would aim to take back Kandahar, Marja, and other population centers that have been secured at considerable cost over the past few years. The Afghan security forces would be likely to splinter along ethnic lines, and the entire country could well be plunged into a civil war as it was in the 1990s, when Kabul was regularly on the receiving end of artillery bombardments.

We know how that conflict played out, with the rise of Taliban rule and the creation of sanctuaries for al Qaeda. There is no need to risk a repeat of such a calamity, when, simply by sticking with current plans and commitments, we have a decent chance to secure our vital interests in Afghanistan.

Whole thing here.

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