Obama and Romney on Afghanistan

Sunday, October 28, 2012 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:46 a.m. CDT, Monday, October 29, 2012

This article is one of 12 that examine where President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stand on some of the issues that are important to voters.


Barack Obama

Obama, who ordered a troop surge of 30,000 U.S. service members in 2009, says the United States is winding down the war effort and is on track to end the Afghanistan War in 2014, his stated goal. He says the U.S. is on track to transfer security responsibility to the Afghan people.

“We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period,” Vice President Joe Biden said during his debate with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the Republican vice presidential candidate, on Oct. 11.

Biden said that with a Romney administration, a withdrawal of U.S. troops would depend on conditions. “It does not depend for us,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security.”

Mitt Romney

Romney says he would assess the situation by holding discussions with U.S. military commanders. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would be based on “conditions on the ground,” with the goal of bringing U.S. service members home by the end of 2014.

“We agree with the (Obama) administration on their 2014 transition,” Ryan said during the debate. He added, however, that it’s not a good idea to publicly set a definitive timeline for troop withdrawal. “We don’t want to embolden our enemies to hold and wait out for us and then take over.”


MU political science professor Cooper Drury noted that Obama entered the presidency opposed to the idea of a surge in Afghanistan but later decided to order it. He said John McCain likely would have done the same if he had been elected in 2008.

Both Obama and Romney want the war in Afghanistan over by the end of 2014. Both sides share the general assessment that Afghanistan is not going well and is not going to improve.

“I’m not sure the Romney/Ryan administration would actually do anything different, but setting a deadline creates a significant advantage for the insurgents in Afghanistan,” Drury said.

Justin Vaïsse, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an independent public policy organization, said Romney largely agrees with Obama’s plan in Afghanistan.

“If you don't like Obama's policy, sorry folks: You have no one to vote for in November,” he said during a panel hosted by Foreign Policy Magazine following the third presidential debate. 

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