A growing debate has emerged in recent weeks within Republican Party leadership over the future of American involvement in Afghanistan. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said last week that “it’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can,” even though he couched it by adding that he would listen primarily to the generals on the ground. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) told Esquire, “If you can’t define a winning exit strategy for the American people where we somehow come out ahead, then…I don’t think that serves our strategic interests.” Huntsman and Romney joined fellow GOP presidential candidates Ron Paul (R-TX) and Gary Johnson (R-NM) in pushing the GOP toward supporting a draw-down in Afghanistan.
These comments prompted a backlash from hawkish Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) over the weekend. Graham said on NBC’s Meet the Press, “If you think the pathway to the GOP nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama’s left on Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, you’re gonna meet a lot of headwinds.” Similarly, ABC’s This Week, McCain criticized Romney’s drift toward a withdrawal position.
But the infighting within the Republican Party on Afghanistan doesn’t stop there. When asked about the leadership divide on Fox News this morning, RNC chairman Reince Priebus refused to take sides and wouldn’t even say whether or not he thinks the U.S. should begin a significant drawdown. “I’m not going get into the weeds on this issue,” he said. Yet over on MSNBC today, Priebus’s predecessor Michael Steele acknowledged that Americans are war weary and said that many Republicans have told him privately that the U.S. needs an endgame:
STEELE: Even at that time when I was getting slammed by the neocons in the party on this issue, I had a number of senators and congressman say “we agree with you but we can’t say anything because the republicans have hitched their wagons to this particular policy.” [...] I’m not an isolationist … particularly when it comes to protecting the interests of the American people but what is that interest we are protecting here? What is the upside for the cost that’s being expended right now? That is a legitimate question.
Nearly half of the GOP presidential candidates have called for some sort of with withdrawal, joining a growing chorus of Republicans in the Senate and the House who are calling for a winding down of the war. Given the diminishing support for continuing the conflict within the Democratic caucus, President Obama may have a tough time resisting pressure to draw down American involvement and maintain similar troops levels in the country as some military leaders have recommended.