Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a major foreign policy address Friday that happened to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan. But in a speech whose prepared text ran more than 2,700 words in length, he devoted just two paragraphs totaling 117 words to that conflict.
To be fair to Romney, the speech, delivered at the Citadel in South Carolina, was not intended as a deep dive into U.S. policy in Afghanistan. It was, rather, a broad outline of his foreign policy and national security principles, an across-the-globe look at how the former Massachusetts governor sizes up the critical issues and some of the steps he would take as president in dealing with them.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says government leaders reach for a century of American dominance, outlining proposals to strengthen the military while rejecting multilateral institutions like the United Nations when necessary.
Romney sought to offer a robust vision, an argument for maintaining a strong military and projecting U.S. power. He also asserted that President Obama has taken a starkly different approach during his nearly three years in office. “I will not surrender America’s role in the world,” Romney said. “If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.”
Still, it was striking how little Afghanistan figured into his examination of the world. Near the top of his speech, he posed two important questions: “After the United States and NATO have withdrawn all forces, will the Taliban find a path back to power? After over a decade of American sacrifice in treasure and blood, will the country sink back into the medieval terrors of fundamentalist rule and the mullahs again open a sanctuary for terrorists?”
And what would he do as president? He saved that for near the end of the speech. “I will order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military to secure that nation’s sovereignty from the tyranny of the Taliban. I will speak with our generals in the field and receive the best recommendation of our military commanders. The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics.”
What Romney did not provide was any hint of what he really thinks about the state of the conflict after a decade of effort. In the speech, as in some of his earlier comments, the former Massachusetts governor was critical of the timetable Obama has established for withdrawing U.S. forces, suggesting that it is too hasty, while holding out the hope that the overall transition could happen even faster than planned.
During a debate in New Hampshire in June, he said, “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can.” But he then added conditions. “I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals,” he said.
He then seemed to move back in the other direction by saying, “But I also think we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban.”