Leading GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney is playing a tricky game on Afghanistan and — in typical fashion — he’s done a pretty good job at avoiding saying where he actually stands on the issue. Seeming to recognize that the 10-year-old war is deeply unpopular with American voters, Romney has tried to give off the perception that he too, stands with them. “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can,” Romney said in a recent debate. But at the same time, Romney echos President Obama’s right-wing critics who say that the president should’ve deferred his troop withdrawal decision to the commanders on the ground (thereby essentially abdicating his role as commander-in-chief). “It’s time for the troops of Afghanistan to take on that responsibility according to…the time table established and communicated by the generals in the field,” Romney then says.
So essentially, Romney’s electoral strategy seems to be to pander to those Americans that want to get out of Afghanistan, while also aiming to please those who want to stay, all by washing his hands of the entire decision — should he be president — by leaving it up to U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan. “I would listen to the generals,” Romney said on Newshour on Friday, “then of course I would pursue that course.” Host Judy Woodruff asked the former Massachusetts governor about this peculiar position and wondered whether Romney would really break the chain of command and allow the generals to decide U.S. strategy in Afghanistan:
WOODRUFF: But isn’t it the role – not but – isn’t the role of the president to make his or her own independent judgment about where American troops go? You were saying you would always defer to the generals. Is that -
ROMNEY: Did I say that? Did I say that, Judy? If I did, let me correct myself.
ROMNEY: I said I would listen to the generals and receive the input of those who are the commanders in the field, and then I would make the – my own decision. But I believe that in the case of the president’s decision to withdraw our surge troops in September of 2012 it was a political decision, and not a decision based upon what is necessary for the effects of our effort in Afghanistan.
Watch it, starting at 3:40:
So in the very same interview, Romney says he would do whatever the generals tell him to do in Afghanistan, then when Woodruff asks him to clarify, he’s suddenly conforming to the chain-of-command, saying he’d listen to the generals, but ultimately make his own decision — which also happens to be exactly what President Obama did.
And aside from all the pandering, Romney doesn’t even have a plan for Afghanistan of his own, one that he can take to the campaign and differentiate himself from Obama, or even the other GOP candidates. In his big foreign policy speech on Friday, Romney said he’d wait until becomes president in order to “order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military.”
The Washington Post’s Dan Balz recognized yesterday that Romney is all over the map on this issue:
But he has yet to follow his own advice to lay out clearly the answers to the questions he posed in his speech or to explain what progress is being made, what challenges remain and what kind of timetable he would recommend for bringing the troops home. Most important, he has not explained what he thinks the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is at this point and what would constitute success.
At least, given his conversation with Woodruff on Friday, Romney now recognizes that there is a chain of command, and that the president is at the top.