By Katie Kieffer
Middle East foreign policy is Obama’s greatest strength and Romney’s greatest weakness. When I say ‘Obama’s greatest strength,’ I’m referring to voter perception and marketability. For example, get ready to hear Obama take credit for killing Osama bin Laden from the Situation Room about 10,000 times between now and November. Obama even devoted his 2012 State of the Union Address to previewing his foreign policy “wins.”
But with zero military service under his belt and no international foreign policy experience, Romney is coming from behind. Romney also lacks a clear foreign policy agenda (like Rep. Ron Paul has) that appeals to mainstream America and independents. So, I think Romney would need to adjust his approach on Afghanistan if he wants to appeal to mainstream America and defeat Obama’s brag-worthy talking points.
Obama knows that the War in Afghanistan is dreadfully unpopular with Americans and he’s positioning himself to win by continually advertising his plan to pull all combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2014.
Romney has a short window of opportunity. He can keep offering vague critiques of Obama’s Afghan policy by calling it “naïve” and “misguided.” Or, like a self-assured CEO, Romney can offer a concrete plan to drawback troops faster and choke al-Qaida more effectively. Basically, he must offer voters a pull-out plan they can fall in love with—one that’s radically different from Obama’s plan to spend two more years blowing cash and training back-stabbers in Afghanistan.
GOP candidates Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul have both expressed the need for America to pull out of Afghanistan sooner than Obama’s 2014 deadline. Gingrich recently said: “We are not going to fix Afghanistan. It is not possible. These are people who have spent several thousand years hating foreigners. And what we have done by staying is become the new foreigners. …The Karzai government is playing us for fools.”
War-weary independent voters find little worth loving in Romney’s current and ambiguous approach to Afghanistan—which some interpret as staying in Afghanistan longer than Obama or even his fellow Republicans like Gingrich and Paul propose staying.
To even have a chance at beating Paul and Gingrich in the primaries and then Obama in the general election, I think Romney would need to address his major weakness, namely foreign policy. There are three key points Romney would need to communicate:
1.) Obama’s surge-and-stay is backfiring
Since 2008—under Obama’s watch—nearly two-and-a-half times the number of Americans have died in Afghanistan as the six previous years combined.
The War in Afghanistan began in 2001, and the Pentagon reports that since 2001 76 coalition troops were killed by the Afghans forces we trusted and trained. However, half of these deaths have occurred since May of 2009. So, the longer we stay and the more troops we send into Afghanistan, the worse the blowback. There is no use denying that the Taliban is no longer our only enemy and there’s an escalating problem of Afghan “allies” turning on Americans under Obama’s troop surge.
American lives are our greatest cost in Afghanistan. The other cost is monetary. I think Romney needs to specifically show Americans how Obama’s plan to keep fighting in Afghanistan through 2014 hinders the free market’s ability to stabilize and create jobs. It costs the U.S. and her NATO allies about $6 billion a year to train and maintain the 350,000-troop Afghan security force.
2.) Obama’s Afghan policy is unpopular
Americans citizens and American troops have grown increasingly disgruntled with Obama’s Afghan policy. On June 21, 2011, Pew reported that 56% of Americans favored bringing all troops home from Afghanistan without delay. And on Oct. 5, 2011, Pew reported that 66% of recent (post-9/11) veterans questioned whether the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were worth fighting.
In recent weeks, however, American anger and doubt over ongoing intervention in Afghanistan has escalated. Why? Because in just eight days, at least six American military personnel have died. Moreover, these six Americans did not die at the hands of the Taliban. Rather, they died at the hands of America’s trusted Afghan “allies” who Obama wants to keep aiding and training.
For example, two high-ranking American officers, Army Maj. Roberty J. Marchanti II and Air Force Lt. Col. John D. Loftis, were shot in the forehead multiple times as they sat in a small conference room in the ultra-secure National Police Coordination Center within the Interior Ministry. Only upper-level Afghan officers can access the Center with a secure code. The primary suspect in this cold-blood dual-murder is 25-year-old Afghan policeman, Abdul Saboor, who spent years working his way up and earning the trust of Americans within the Ministry.
3.) Obama hurts Americans by trusting and siding with Karzai
After American troops mistakenly burned Qurans in Afghanistan this month, the Obama administration quickly issued multiple apologies to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Rather than vaguely criticizing Obama’s apology, I think Romney should get specific. He should cast doubt on Obama’s judgment for befriending a man as untrustworthy as Karzai.
Karzai is the same dude who has admitted to accepting multi-million-dollar bags of cash every other month from Iran. And Karzai apparently uses Iran’s cash to assist the Taliban even while he accepts American funding and claims he’s helping us route the Taliban.
The New York Times reports: “The payments, which [Afghan and Western] officials say total millions of dollars, form an off-the-books fund that [Karzai’s closest aide Umar] Daudzai and Karzai have used to pay Afghan lawmakers, tribal elders and even Taliban commanders to secure their allegiance, the officials said.”
Karzai is supposed to be on our side. He’s not. Despite Afghans killing six innocent Americans in eight days and despite both Obama and NATO commanding general John R. Allen apologizing for the Quran-burning, Karzai’s office released a chilling statement from Afghanistan’s authority, the Ulema Council.
According to The New York Times, the Ulema Council recommends that: “those [Americans] responsible for the burning of the Korans and other religious texts should be put on trial and punished. And it called for the American-led coalition to respond by handing over all Afghan prisoners in its custody and ceding control of its prisons.”
Romney should tell the story of the late U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke who served as Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Holbrooke’s dying words to his surgeons before entering emergency aorta surgery on Dec. 13, 2010 were: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” Holbrooke warned Obama about trusting Karzai and he vocally accused Karzai of managing corrupt elections. Romney should point a finger at Obama for ignoring the warnings of Holbrooke who had his ear to the ground in Afghanistan.
Romney could also reference CIA intelligence chief Michael Scheuer, who tracked bin Laden for four years and spent most of his 22-year career in Afghanistan. Scheuer thinks President Obama owes an apology to the American military men and women who died at the hands of the Afghan Forces they trained—and a swift exit plan for the Americans who remain in Afghanistan.
Obama says he apologized to Karzai “…to save lives …it calmed things down …[to] best protect our folks and make sure they can accomplish their mission.” Obama’s stated purpose in keeping combat troops in Afghanistan through 2014 is: “…to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately, ultimately, defeat al-Qaida,” says White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Romney should ask the American people how they can trust a Commander in Chief who sides with Karzai, apologizes for American troops and throws American leaders like Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller under the bus.
Romney’s winning pitch
Obama is stubbornly staying the course of his unpopular war in Afghanistan. I think Romney will only gain popular appeal among independent voters by telling them the truth about Obama’s involvement in Afghanistan and his friendship with Karzai.
If he wants to win, Romney should avoid generics and hawkish idealism and focus on specifics and reality: Obama’s expansive policy is rousing increasing anti-American sentiment and is getting American military personnel killed in Afghanistan’s most secure buildings by trusted Afghan officers.
Romney’s chances at becoming the next President of the United States would increase greatly if he promises to save American lives and avoid further blowback from Afghans, the Taliban and al-Qaida by pulling out all American troops directly.
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