With polls such as a recent study by the Pew Research Center showing increasing numbers of Americans supporting a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, the temptation may be great for some leaders to jump on the “realist” or isolationist bandwagon. But even as a candidate like Jon Huntsman hopes to gain traction with the voters by opposing the war, it appears two of the leading GOP presidential contenders are standing firm on upholding the nation’s foreign responsibilities.
Matthew Continetti writes in the Weekly Standard that Michelle Bachmann is coming down firmly against accelerated withdrawals. To her credit, Bachmann, who seemed to sound an isolationist note on Libya, understands not only what the stakes are in Afghanistan but also what the goal of our commitment should be. She tells the Standard not only must the United States “stay the course,” but it must “finish the job.” In contrast to President Obama, whose half-hearted backing for the war has sent both our allies and our enemies mixed signals about our intentions, Bachmann says two words to which the current commander-in-chief seems allergic: “win” and “victory.”
In Afghanistan, we are making great progress. We have to win southern Afghanistan, then we have to go on and win eastern Afghanistan. I believe we will be victorious, and we’ll end it. I understand why people are frustrated. I completely understand. But I do trust General Petraeus and what he is doing over there.
Equally encouraging is the stand taken by Tim Pawlenty. In an interviewwith Politico, Pawlenty said he opposed an Afghanistan pullout until the United States was sure local forces were in place and strong enough to hold off the Taliban. “We need to make sure we do not send the message that we are leaving just because we’re tired or just because it’s too difficult,” said Pawlenty.
Of course, that is exactly the message the enemy may be getting from the president tonight if, as expected, he says U.S. troops will be drawn down and completely out of the country by the end of 2012. It’s also the message they may be getting from candidates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. While the polls and the pundits claim this is the popular thing to say, the idea a dovish stand on foreign policy is a winning formula for a Republican primary is an unproved proposition. The bet here is Bachmann and Pawlenty may be more in sync with the sentiments of the GOP grass roots on this issue than their more establishment opponents.