Mitt Romney is going on an overseas campaign trip. It apparently does not include Afghanistan. I have to suspect that there’s a surprise visit scheduled. If not, this dude is getting some terrible advice.
I don’t mean to be a concern troll here, although I don’t know how I’d convince anyone of that. But consider: if Romney gets what he wants, he will inherit the war. What would he do as president? I don’t exactly know, and neither do his surrogates. As a notional commitment, he’s said he’s displeased by the withdrawal timetable… but is on board with it in theory… but he’d listen to the commanders… and, therefore… derp? Does that mean he’d stick with the 2014 drawdown as president or not? No idea. You’ve surely seen by now that his campaign sees little upside in discussing Afghanistan when there’s the bleeding wound of the economy to discuss.
That might be an option if Romney had a foreign policy profile. He doesn’t. You can’t really draw on Romney’s other foreign-policy positions to set expectations for how he’d manage the Afghanistan war. (A Reagan Economic Zone for Southwest Asia?)
I suppose you can argue that Romney ought to just ignore foreign policy. But he’s not. He’s going to Israel, the U.K. and Poland. (Explains policy director Lanhee Chen: “Each of these nations shares our love of liberty as well as the fortitude to defend it. They’re each pillars of liberty and have fought through periods where liberty was under siege.”) How can an aspiring commander-in-chief go overseas but not observe the war; talk to the Americans waging it; make a speech explaining what he’d do differently; etc.?
Maybe I’m wrong. Dan Drezner thinks there’s no upside for Romney, and any visit is pure campaign optics. He’s right on that latter part. But this is a self-inflicted error. Any foreign visit by a presidential candidate is campaign optics; and so it’s bad campaign optics to not appear like a commander-in-chief. El Snarkistani is certainly right that Romney can learn just as much about Afghanistan from a video teleconference. But that makes him look checked out. It’s discordant to say that you’ll put the generals in charge of your policy but won’t actually visit them in person so they can tell you what they’d recommend.
Perhaps Romney is where the country is on Afghanistan, attitudinally. But then he ought to have the fortitude to say the war needs to end, since you can’t justify putting U.S. troops through the crucible of a war that you don’t believe is important. Not that consistency actually drives U.S. foreign policy, particularly on the merits of a war.
I don’t know who’s advising Romney on Afghanistan, but someone on that team ought to question if the boss is getting good advice. (Swear to God, I’m not trying to concern-troll. Pleezebuleevit.) Do they want to make the candidate look like he doesn’t care about the war? They’re giving Obama a line of attack for no overarching benefit.