Most of the anticipation for tonight’s presidential debate on foreign policy is focused on how Mitt Romney and President Obama will handle round two of the Libya attack and how the Obama administration managed it. But the more expensive foreign policy issue — in human and budgetary costs — is the U.S. direction in Afghanistan.
A consistent line from Republicans has centered on not announcing the departure of troops and staying until the job is done. That was the argument Rep. Paul Ryan made in the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate and it’s the argument many expect Mitt Romney to make in tonight’s debate.
Vice President Biden, however, hammered home that troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014.
“We are leaving in 2014, period, and in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion,” Biden said. “We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It’s their responsibility, not America’s.”
Tactically, which road to take is debatable. Politically, however, it’s clear that Obama and Biden are in line with most Americans.
According to new polling data from Pew Research Center, 60 percent of respondents said the United States should remove troops as soon as possible, while 35 percent say the U.S. should keep troops in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized. It’s a gap that has gradually widened since early 2011, when Americans were essentially split on the issue.
However, as Josh Rogin reported at Foreign Policy, a State Department official has said that the United States may be keeping some troops on the ground in Afghanistan for counterterrorism and training purposes.
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