Over the past several weeks, a series of articles have noted the absence of any discussion of the Afghanistan War in the U.S. presidential campaign. President Barack Obama might be avoiding the subject, but for better or worse, his policy is a matter of record. By contrast, GOP candidate Mitt Romney has yet to articulate an Afghanistan policy.
Of course, it shouldn’t strike anyone as curious that the Romney campaign is as reluctant to talk about Afghanistan as the Obama administration. After all, the war is terribly unpopular. The administration has apparently determined the safest thing to do politically is to chart a course toward withdrawal and otherwise pretend the United States does not still have tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines fighting a determined enemy on a daily basis. For its part, the Romney campaign has decided that criticizing the administration for not showing enough resolve in its prosecution of the war, thereby implying that Romney would prolong or increase the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, is too politically risky. As a result, Romney has largely remained silent on the issue.
This is unfortunate, as the Romney campaign has two very smart South Asia specialists, James Shinn and Ashley Tellis, advising it, both of whom would enliven any conversation about either the war in Afghanistan or the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship. I, for one, would pay good money to attend a debate on the Afghanistan War between Tellis and, say, Michèle Flournoy, Obama’s former undersecretary of defense for policy who has recently participated in “proxy” debates on broader defense policy.