Republicans Fracturing On Afghanistan: McCain Criticizes Withdrawal, McConnell Supports Obama

White House press secretary Jay Carney said this week that the U.S. Afghanistan withdrawal plan will remain unchanged despite recent setbacks such as killings last weekend of Afghan civilians allegedly by an American soldier and recent violence sparked by burning of Qurans last month by American troops. However, the New York Times reported yesterday that “the Obama administration is discussing whether to reduce American forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns.”

The Republican Party appeared to be unified in both supporting President Obama’s Afghanistan surge in 2009, and criticizing the withdrawal plan he announced last year. But fractures emerged within the GOP as the presidential candidates sought to get to Obama’s left on Afghanistan. But now the recent events there have split the GOP in three camps. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum appear ready to throw in the towel. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is still attacking the president for wanting to withdraw too soon and now the third wing is openly supporting Obama’s timetable, the AP reports:

Republicans and Democrats alike insist the United States should stay the course in Afghanistan, sticking to President Barack Obama’s timetable for withdrawing American troops despite the massacre of Afghan civilians and the burning of Qurans — two offenses blamed on the U.S. military that have stoked anti-American anger.

Key proponents of keeping troops in Afghanistan, like Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., say these tragic incidents shouldn’t diminish the American resolve to finish a job begun more than a decade ago.

Moreover, the Hill reports that Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who appeared to oppose Obama’s withdrawal plan last year, is urging Obama to maintain the current plan:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday backed the Obama administration’s scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, a conflict that has reached a critical moment following the alleged slaying of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier.

McConnell emphasized he was speaking only for himself, and his remarks highlighted a divide in his party, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) slamming the administration’s plans to withdraw the 23,000 remaining “surge” troops from Afghanistan by year’s end.

A new poll out this week found that Americans’ support for the war in Afghanistan at an all time low. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports today that “[a] growing number of Afghans say they have come to see a quick U.S. pullout as the best of bad options.”