Mitt Romney’s Bizarre Take On Obama’s Afghanistan Decision

Mitt Romney's statements about the planned early draw down in Afghanistan make no sense whatsoever.

Shortly after Secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta announced the other day that the United States would be winding down its combat role in Afghanistan at least six months earlier than originally planned, Mitt Romney came out with a statement criticizing the move:

LAS VEGAS — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday night blasted President Obama and his administration for “putting in jeopardy” the nation’s military mission by signaling it hopes to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by the middle of 2013.

Appearing at a campaign rally here shortly after landing in Nevada, Romney said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s statement Wednesday that U.S. forces would transition from a combat mission in Afghanistan next year “makes absolutely no sense.”

“He announced that so the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it,” Romney said. “Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the day you’re pulling out your troops? It makes absolutely no sense. [Obama’s] naivete is putting in jeopardy the mission of the United States of America and our commitments to freedom. He is wrong. We need new leadership in Washington.”

Spencer Ackermann points out the logical flaws in Romney’s statement:

It’s not just Obama that’s announcing the accelerated schedule. It’s NATO. NATO wants this war wrapped up. The alliance will provide substance for how it concludes its combat mission by 2013 at the May summit in Chicago. That means all 28 heads of state and government are going to sign on to a plan to turn the Afghanistan war over to the Afghans next year. (Not that they’re actually going to leave, entirely, which is a big asterisk.) Right in time for people to start paying attention to a presidential election.

And what’s Romney going to do? Say that as president, he’s going to convince NATO — and Karzai! — not to hew to a 2013 (or 2014!) timetable for ending combat? That he’d keep the U.S. fighting in Afghanistan beyond that point? How’s he going to sell that in Brussels and the NATO capitols? How’s he gonna sell that in Kabul? How’s he gonna sell that in Kansas?

Remember, a major part of Romney’s foreign policy critique of Obama is that Obama callously mistreats and neglects U.S. allies. The allies, however, want the 2013 timetable. Romney surely had to bash the change in the timetable; that’s all in the game. But Mitt doesn’t seem to have thought through the angles here. Or, alternatively, he’s banking on Obama to bail President Romney out of the Afghanistan war while posturing as an opponent of the incumbent’s policy — much as Obama banked on President Bush to bail him out of the Iraq war with the SOFA accord while doing the same.

Daniel Larison tries to find some logic in Romney’s position, but ultimately isn’t able to for the simple reason that there isn’t any. Much as Republicans refused to acknowledge the reality that the Bush Administration had negotiated a Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq that called for American forces to be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011 and that the Iraqi government was unwilling to enter into a new SOFA with the United States to extend the time that our forces would be there, they are refusing to recognize reality here. The 2014 deadline was set in stone quite some time ago, and the withdrawal is going to be in full effect if and when President Romney takes office in 2013. Surely, Romney doesn’t really believe he can reverse course on this does he? Actually, I don’t think he does. This is just another talking point for the GOP in its mostly ham-handed attack on President Obama’s foreign policy.

Which brings us to the other part of Ackerman’s argument. The same Mitt Romney who has accused the President of abandoning our allies is now criticizing him for supporting a decision that all of NATO supports. Does he really believe that his first task as President would be to reverse a decision that everyone else in the Afghan coalition agrees to, and that they’ll just go along with it? Again, this assumes that Romney has actually thought through what he’s saying here. What we actually have in this statement isn’t a coherent statement of an alternative Afghanistan strategy so much as it is yet another opportunity to bash the President for making what, in the end, seems to be the only reasonable, responsible decision that can be made about a war that has already gone on far longer than it needs to.

As Larison notes, these two positions that Romney is taking are completely contradictory, but does anyone think Republicans are either going to notice or care? Of course they won’t. Outside of Ron Paul, there isn’t a candidate left in the race who is going to disagree with what Romney’s saying here and he’s unlikely to get called on it, if at all, until he’s face-to-face with the President in a General Election Debate. At that point, he’s going to mostly look like an idiot for making an argument that makes no sense at all in favor of continuing a war that the vast majority of Americans wish had ended years ago.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Afghanistan War, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Curtis says:

    The only unifying principle in the Republican party is blanket opposition to President Obama. This has been clear for over three years. Romney will say anything, anytime, if his advisors conclude it might help him get elected.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    But Doug I thought you’d promoted the idea of Romney as the intelligent choice for Republicans. I’m ragging you but do you really think this guy is fit to be president. C’mon.

  3. sam says:

    Mitt’s got a lot of money. Why doesn’t he raise his own private army? He can make his heretofore non-serving sons — that would be all of his sons — generals , and send them and the army over there to take care of the loose ends.

    (This guy is really, really pissing me off. Really.)

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @Curtis: Spot on – anything Obama does is wrong even if we were for it last week. I don’t see how this can help Romney get elected since two thirds of the American people want us out of Afghanistan yesterday not in 2013 or 2014.

  5. James says:

    This is simply commentary on the electorate Romney is appealing to; voters who are more concerned with the narrative of Obama’s “naivete” than they are with the actual problems (or solutions) of geopolitics.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    “…As Larison notes, these two positions that Romney is taking are completely contradictory…”

    It’s an artform to flip-flop in the same statement. Will Republicans care? No…job one is to beat Obama…nothing else matters.
    The question is if the stenographers posing as pundits will notice. Obviously some have. Will the rest. Somehow I don’t see D. Gregory being able to wrap his brain around it.

  7. MBunge says:

    I think people are missing the truly awesome level of unseriousness on display here. Romney isn’t actually criticizing the withdrawal of troops for Afghanistan. He’s criticizing THE ANNOUNCMENT of such a withdrawal. He’s not arguing that we stay in Afghanistan. He’s saying that when we do pull out, we should do it in secret and leave the Afghans to just wake up some morning and wonder where all the Americans went.


  8. @Brummagem Joe: In fairness, I believe Doug has repeatedly noted he is likely to vote Libertarian in November.

    However, I am pretty sure his position on Romney has been that he the best of the GOP lot.

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In fairness, I believe Doug has repeatedly noted he is likely to vote Libertarian in November.

    Is Ron Paul making a third party run then. I hadn’t heard that.

  10. @Brummagem Joe:

    Of the Republicans left, Romney is the only intelligent choice Republican voters have since they rejected a guy like Jon Huntsman for no good reason whatsoever.

  11. Rob in CT says:


    Well yeah. That “criticism” has been around a while. I’m pretty sure they tried it on him before.

    It’s ludicrous, of course, but it lets the rubes keep their hate on w/o bothering their pea brains.

  12. @Brummagem Joe: Gary Johnson is pursuing the Lib. Party nomination.

  13. Rob in CT says:

    I hope he gets it, so I can toss him a vote. Funny, Doug and I voting the same way. Politics makes… oh nevermind.

    Though I’m often sympathetic to Obama – and find myself defending him a lot against wingnut insanity, I’m sufficiently worried about our “national security” apparatus, sufficiently upset about the war on drugs, and sufficiently pissed off about crony capitalism that I’d like to give voice to it on election day, in a state that will be safe Obama even if Romney wins.

    I no longer think Obama will help in any of those areas (indeed, he’s been actively harmful wrt “national security”, nearly useless on the WoD, and utterly useless on crony capitalism).

  14. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Huntsman’s candidacy was about as substantive as Bachmann’s

  15. Now you’re just being a partisan contrarian, Joe. Have a good weekend

  16. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Gary Johnson is pursuing the Lib. Party nomination. </blockquote

    Oh…Doug's voting for Gary Johnson is he…….whose Gary Johnson?

  17. john personna says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I down voted that, because no, Republicans do have a more rational choice 😉

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Now you’re just being a partisan contrarian, Joe

    I prefer to call it exposing the contradictions.

  19. john personna says:

    (To expand, if Mitt and Barack are both moderates, Barack is at least the proven moderate.)

  20. David M says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Of the Republicans left, Romney is the only intelligent choice Republican voters have

    I can’t disagree with this quote, but Romney seems to keep trying harder each day to invalidate it.

  21. James in LA says:

    The GOP has a long record of handing over the seminal issues of our times to Democrats. Mitt Romney’s dissent is for dissent’s sake, the backbone of opposition to Obama since the night the President was elected. The GOP has offered no other policies, has instead sworn oaths before the Oath of Office, and now has no governing achievements on which to run.

    Regrettably for my conservative friends, Mitt Romney is likely not done speaking in public…

  22. anjin-san says:

    The sad thing is that this guy is the cream of the GOP crop.

  23. Steve Verdon says:

    @Brummagem Joe:


    Try it this way. A dog sh*t sandwich might be the best sh*t sandwich there is…but it is still a sh*t sandwich.

    Romney is the dog sh*t sandwich.

    No contradiction.

  24. Jr says:

    Romney’s is a joke, let just be honest about it.

  25. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    Try it this way. A dog sh*t sandwich might be the best sh*t sandwich there is…but it is still a sh*t sandwich.

    Romney is the dog sh*t sandwich.

    Er…I never said that was a contradiction…I’m well aware of the fact that (to use a less scatological simile) in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.

  26. Steve Verdon says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    I refer you to this post by you.

  27. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Steve Verdon:

    Steve you’re really going to have to contain this narcissistic urge to prove your brilliance because you’re just proving again you have comprehension problems. I referred to no specific contradiction but was just making a broad philosophical statement. You’re beginning to behave like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

  28. An Interested Party says:

    This contradiction on the part of Romney is of the same piece as two of the larger GOP arguments against the President…on the one hand, he’s an evil communist/socialist Manchurian candidate who is imposing evil foreign ideas on our country but on the other hand, he is an incompetent lightweight who is totally in over his head and can’t accomplish much of anything…for Romney as for Republicans, whatever sticks, I guess…

    I no longer think Obama will help in any of those areas…

    I wonder if anyone who could actually be elected president would help in any of those areas…