Political Animal


December 20, 2011 8:35 AM Romney camp gets tripped up by Afghanistan

By Steve Benen

U.S. military and intelligence officials agree that talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan are not only unavoidable, but also worthwhile. Such negotiations are critical to establishing some semblance of stability to the country, and while the right may resist this, among most leading officials, including David Petraeus, this is simply an obvious fact.

With this realization in mind, the Obama administration is ready to defend talks that may seem distasteful. Indeed, Vice President Biden caused a stir yesterday with his comments to Newsweek about the Taliban.

“Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here:

“One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban. And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies.”

Mitt Romney’s campaign quickly pounced, calling Biden’s comments “an outrageous affront to our troops.”

The rhetoric is predictable, but there’s a problem. The Romney campaign not only disagrees with the Vice President, it also disagrees with the Romney campaign.

James Shinn is Mitt Romney’s top foreign policy advisor on Afghanistan. He’s also a former assistant secretary of defense for Asia in the Bush administration who helped write the Bush administration’s Afghan Strategy Review, as well as having served in the State Department and the CIA.

And as it turns out, Romney’s top foreign policy advisor on Afghanistan happens to agree with Biden’s line about talks with the Taliban. In June, Shinn endorsed direct negotiations with the Taliban, and in August, Shinn endorsed “a negotiated settlement” with the Taliban, which would give them a formal role in the Afghan government. “Negotiation does not represent an easy or early way out of Afghanistan for the United States and its NATO allies, but it is the only way in which this war is likely to end,” he argued.

What are the foreign policy differences between what Joe Biden said and what Romney’s top foreign policy advisor on Afghanistan said? There are no differences.

I’ll look forward to the Romney campaign explaining why its own foreign policy is misguided.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on December 20, 2011 8:49 AM:

    If Mitt does win the '12 election, how will he run the country if he can't say he'll run it in directly the opposite manner that Obama is running it?

    Will he call Obama at home every day?

    "Hey, Barack, it's me Mitt. Yes, AGAIN! Say, what do you think about this new Afghanistan thingy? I don't know what to do until you say what you would have done, so I can take the opposite position.
    Shove what where?
    Now Barack, that's not nice, and you know I'm heterosexual, and besides, how do you put a question up there? Hello? Hello? Gosh darn thing must have broken. Get me another phone!"

  • DAY on December 20, 2011 8:59 AM:

    ďan outrageous affront to our troops.Ē

    That is ALL most people will hear; not the Biden remarks, nor the back story in Benen's post.
    Mission Accomplished!

  • aggie bee on December 20, 2011 9:04 AM:

    Huh? Where's the contradiction? Mitt Romney has spent his entire political career explaining why his own positions are at odds with his own positions.

  • Ron Byers on December 20, 2011 9:06 AM:

    Flip flop.

    It isn't just the candidate who flip flops at the drop of the hat, it is his entire organization.

    A team takes its cues from its leader. Normally I would assume the leader of the Romney team is Mitt Romney, but given Romney's entirely manufactuered personna I have to wonder just who is the real leader of the Romney campaign.

  • James M on December 20, 2011 9:08 AM:

    Blame it on the movies.

    Have you guys watched an action movie recently? I think Matrix was the last one that had a real plot. It seems that in today's movies there is no real consistent time line or logical plot flow. Characters seamlessly float between being good guys and bad guys as the screenplay demands (without the luxury of any character development at all) and countless weird plot twists are introduced in rapid succesion to motivate/justify whatever violent action is currently taken place on the screen.

    A little long winded, but I trying to say that the modern GOP has not only waged war on objective reality, but also on the very concept of linear time. 'What I say today need have no relation to what I said 10 years ago, 10 months ago, 10 days ago, or even 10 minutes ago! All the statements all equally valid, all fully logical in their respective alternative universes, and all utterly non-contradictory (even if they are opposite in meaning).

    I am beginning to agree with some posters on a previous thread. This total lack of consistency is a heinous and regretable development, but I am not sure there is much we can do about it. As the press refuses to play the role of referee, there is really no way for the average (not the people reading these blogs)voter to keep up.

    We just have to deal with whatever the flip-flopping candidate in saying in his/her current avatar and show the stupidity of what he/she is currently proposing.

  • aggie bee on December 20, 2011 9:22 AM:

    c u n d gulag @ 8:49am ~ "If Mitt does win the '12 election..."

    Dear God, man, remove those f*cking characters from your keyboard.

  • bigtuna on December 20, 2011 11:31 AM:

    The NYT mag on Sunday has a very good story regarding Pakistan, the nation we need to really be thinking about. While certainly not a pro Obama piece, it pointed out that Clinton has a better clue as to the complex issues there - one being that Pakistan has reasons to be wary of a strong Afghanistan, why talks with the Taliban and Pakistan might make sense, etc.

    The problem with the area is that it ain't Massachusetts. It is f+++ing nightmare of entanglements, alliances, animosities, and we stepped in it, and helped create some of the shit, with our anti soviet rabble rousing, help a nation, then abandon them, pro India, etc. stands.

    None of it makes for a good short quip that our politican cotton candy heads deal in.

  • 2Manchu on December 20, 2011 12:02 PM:

    "Iíll look forward to the Romney campaign explaining why its own foreign policy is misguided."

    I'll look forward to anyone who interviews Romney to actually call him out on this.

  • Richard on December 20, 2011 12:10 PM:

    This is to be expected. The GOPers are not really running on a foreign or for that metter domestic policy. They are running an anti-sounbite campaign. palin most typified this lame approach....look for anything that can be farmed into outrage and hope to make that ourage contagious.

    Romney is a bit of a clown and cetrtainly quite goofy. He is in way over his head and I look forward to the real show...him vs Obama.

  • Stephen Stralka on December 20, 2011 12:31 PM:

    Yes, Mitt, that's a brilliant idea. Let's never negotiate. Let's just keep large military forces overseas indefinitely and pay for it by cutting taxes on job creators.

  • toowearyforoutrage on December 20, 2011 12:43 PM:

    Mitt's Afghanistan position has about as much in common with our Caliph-in-Chief's as their health care policies.

    Where'd I put my microtome.

  • MNRD on December 20, 2011 2:33 PM:

    Don't be surprised if Romney's mindless embrace of saber-rattling neo-conservatism winds up being his ultimate undoing.

    With the gaping divide within the Republican Party between the neo-conservatives and the Ron Paul libertarians regarding American militarism, the only logical stand for Republican Presidential candidates to take is the same kind of aggressive but prudent approach as President Obama. In this case, Romney's mindless knee-jerk rejection of all things Obama has led him into a trap that threatens to make him utterly unacceptable to Ron Paul supporters.