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What Perry Meant on Afghanistan

3:01 PM, Sep 15, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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On Monday night, Republican presidential hopefuls met for a debate in Tampa, Florida. Perhaps one of the more incoherent exchanges that evening was when Texas governor Rick Perry attempted to explain his position on the war in Afghanistan.

rick perry photo portrait, August 28, 2004

“Well, I agree with Governor Huntsman when we talk about it's time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can,” Perry said, referencing the previous answer in the debate given by former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, which clearly stated that U.S. forces should withdraw from Afghanistan and that the emphasis should be placed on nation building here at home.

Perry continued: “But it's also really important for us to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver aid to those countries, and is it best spent with a hundred thousand military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan? I don't think so at this particular point in time. I think the best way for us to impact that country is to make a transition where that country's military is going to be taking care of their people. Bring our young men and women home and continue to help them build the infrastructure we need, whether it's schools for young women like yourself or otherwise.”

It was not clear what Perry meant by all this. Should the U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan but leave a few soldiers behind? For what reason? To do what? Why not withdraw from Afghanistan after winning? Or why not withdraw from Afghanistan altogether? Perry did not say, and the moderator quickly cut away to a commercial break.  

A Perry foreign policy consultant is now clarifying the Texas governor’s position on Afghanistan, saying, “He had ten seconds to respond to the question.”

“He does not agree with Governor Huntsman,” the foreign policy consultant says. “He believes it’s in the national security interest of the United States to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, and that there’s a strong Afghan national force in place to defeat the radicals.”

The Perry consultant continued: “What he said was that we need to bring our troops home safely and securely.…But that we need to retain a presence there. First and foremost, the blame falls on President Obama for setting timetables for bringing the troops home. Perry believes that the way to safely and securely bring troops home is to defeat—and to help the Afghan national forces defeat—the radical elements and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

Perry’s main criticism is apparently of Obama, who “has set political timetables while putting American troops in harms way… and is asking the troops in Afghanistan to do more with less,” by cutting the defense budget.

In an interview published today by Time magazine, Perry himself clarifies his views on Afghanistan.

I think we need to try to move our men and women home as soon as we can. Not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq as well. And we’ve got to continually reassess our objectives. We need to make strategic decisions based on consultation with our military leaders on the ground, rather than just some arbitrary political promises.

Our objective should be clear. We’ve got to support the Afghan national security forces as they transition into the role of being the stable and appropriate force to sustain that country. Our overall objective has to be to serve that process and to drive out those who would do harm to our country. I think we’ve done that in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have substantial ways to continue to put the pressure on the bad guys, if you will, and I don’t think keeping a large force of United States uniform military in Afghanistan for a long period of time is particularly in the interest of the U.S., or for that matter, in Afghani interest.

At this time, it does not appear that Perry has any scheduled foreign policy address—or, more to the point, a scheduled event to address Afghanistan. But with America involved in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, it’s only a matter of time before Perry will have to address foreign policy in a more a serious way than he did during Monday night’s debate. 

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