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U.S. Presidential Race: Don't Mention The War

The United States has been at war in Afghanistan longer than anywhere it has ever fought.
The United States has been at war in Afghanistan longer than anywhere it has ever fought.
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By Heather Maher
WASHINGTON -- There are many issues dominating the U.S. presidential campaign -- unemployment, taxes, the economy, Iran -- but the place where America has been at war for more than 11 years is not one of them.

President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, mention Afghanistan only rarely in campaign speeches, and only briefly when they do. Romney didn’t mention it all during his nearly 40-minute speech accepting his party’s nomination.

He was roundly criticized for that, even by fellow Republicans.

“It was a mistake, I mean, this was a mistake," Steve Hays, of the conservative magazine “The Weekly Standard,” told Fox News. "Whether it was an oversight or an omission, I don’t know which one is worse, but it was a mistake. You have 70,000-plus troops on the ground in Afghanistan now, and you need to speak to them.... People want to see the leader of a party talk about something as important as war.”

Or do they?

The United States has been at war in Afghanistan longer than anywhere it has ever fought. More than 2,000 Americans have been killed, many thousands have been injured, and $574 billion has been spent.

And yet, according to Frank Newport, the editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, when Americans are asked to name the most important issue facing the country, less than one percent say "Afghanistan."

That’s because people are so concerned about the economy and unemployment, he says, and there’s a “huge correlation” between what the polls say and what politicians say.

“The candidates read polls and also have their own pollsters, so they’re clearly aware of what the key issues are," Newport says. "And we don’t hear Afghanistan being discussed by either Romney or Obama probably because, a, their consultants tell them it’s not a high-priority issue for the public; and b, it’s not a point of differentiation.”

'Narrowing Goals'

Two years ago, Obama and other NATO leaders set December 2014 as the date by which combat operations in Afghanistan will end. That decision has settled the issue of U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the minds of many Americans, who polls show are tired of war.

A man watches the first presidential debate between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Governor Mitt Romney in front of an office building along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California on October 3.
A man watches the first presidential debate between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Governor Mitt Romney in front of an office building along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California on October 3.
The recent string of green-on-blue-shootings has fueled the feeling that the sooner U.S. troops are home, the better. An October 14 editorial in the “New York Times” titled "Time to Pack Up and Leave” urged speeding up the pullout to next year, because “the United States will not achieve even President Obama’s narrowing goals.” It concluded, “Two more years of combat, two more years of sending the 1 percent of Americans serving in uniform to die and be wounded, is too long.”

A Gallup poll found that more than half the public feels the same.

That’s understandable, says Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. But he also says most Americans don’t think Washington should abandon Afghanistan before it’s ready to take over its own security.

“Eleven years into what’s been a very difficult and frustrating and, of course, bloody effort, Americans are really tired of this," O’Hanlon says. "They’re doubting whether we’re accomplishing anything close to our desired optimal goals. And yet they also are responsible enough to know that we probably shouldn’t rush for the exits and we already have a plan to get out within two years."

Seemingly Unimportant?

That withdrawal date has come up repeatedly in the campaign as the main point of difference on Afghanistan between Obama and Romney, who has criticized the president for announcing military plans to the enemy.

But he recently said he agrees with Obama that the “goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.”

The lack of disagreement between the two candidates is another big reason why we’re not hearing much about the war, says Gallup’s Newport.

“The candidates talk about issues to the degree that they’re important to voters, and or when they think they have an advantage they think they can use against their opponent," Newport says. "So Afghanistan doesn’t come up often on the campaign trail, it’s because the candidates and their advisers don’t think it meets either of those two criteria.”

O’Hanlon says he thinks it’s a good thing that Afghanistan hasn’t become a point of political debate. He says he normally wants to see vigorous debate on any war the United States is involved.

“I’m afraid that any political discussion would probably deteriorate a bit into a race for the exits," O'Hanlon says. "There’d be sort of an irresistible pressure to try to talk about hastening or speeding up the draw down schedule relative to what might otherwise occur. I have been glad that that has been avoided. I was worried that we’d see people committing to a faster troop draw down than the other guy to try to win some points on the basis of satisfying Americans’ urge to be done with this thing. But that has thankfully been avoided.”

Veterans And The Vote

With little talk of Afghanistan in this campaign, there's also been no political discussion of the 2.4 million military veterans that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created. And that’s the real problem, says Tom Tarantino, a former U.S. Army captain who served in Iraq and is now chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghan Vets of America.

“The level of discussion on Afghanistan is virtually zero. And more importantly, the level of discussion about what is happening with the veterans coming home from Afghanistan is also close to zero," Tarantino says. "What we hear so far are a lot of, ‘thank you for your service,’ but we don’t hear a lot of specifics.”

Tarantino says veterans don’t care that Obama and Romney aren’t talking about war policy. That's better left to military commanders, he believes. What vets want to hear, he says, is how the next commander in chief is going to deal with the many challenges that returning vets face.

“We could send everyone home tomorrow -- we could do that. And if everyone came home tomorrow, we would still face serious problems with education, with employment, with health care," Tarantino says. "These problems will persist whether the war ends tomorrow, or the war ends in two years, or the war ends in 10 years. And frankly, we’re not doing a very good job addressing these concerns.”
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Comments
     
by: Hillary from: US
October 16, 2012 14:03
I say we, the US government, keep winning and winning and winning in Afghanistan, just like we won in Iraq. After all, when NATO minions die the humanity wins. I'm Hillary and I approve this message.
In Response

by: Saddam from: Iraq
October 16, 2012 16:04
You did not win in Iraq. I won. That's why I, my crazy sons, and the Baath Party are still in charge. Oh, and bin Laden called me today and said that everything is just fabulous for him in Afghanistan. I'm Saddam and I approve this message.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 17, 2012 15:29
Well, "Saddam", you will be surprised to know that there are more people in this world than you, your sons and the US. There is, for example, this guy called Mahmud Ahmadinejad - who happens to be a democratically elected President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
So, "Saddam", a couple of years after your death, the US - quite predictably - got kicked out of Iraq and could not even cajole the new pro-Iranian shia Iraqui leadership into signing a treaty allowing the US to keep its military bases on the Iraqui soil.
Then ONE DAY AFTER the last US soldier has been kicked out of Iraq, the pro-Iranian shia Iraqui leadership has put criminal charges on the pro-US leader of the sunni minority in the country who since has had to flee Iraq and is now hiding in Turkey.
These days, "Saddam", when the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is daily killing hundreds of the US- and Saudi-financed terrorists in Syria, Mahmud Ahmadinejad (together with Putin, of course) is using the territory of Iraq (with the acquiescence of the new pro-Iranian shia leadership of the country) in order to send arms to the legitimate govt of Syria - only in order for the latter to continue killing the already mentioned US- and Saudi-financed terrorists.
It's more, "Saddam", there were reports in various media outlets recently that the Russian Rosneft company is slowly but steadily kicking the US Exxon out of the oil business in Iraq (see the reference below).
Well, "Saddam", does any of that look like a "US victory" in Iraq? Of course, it doesn't: if there is anyone who benefited from the fact that several thousands US citizens and permanent residents died in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, those were (a) Mahmud Ahmadinejad and (b) Vladimir Putin. Ah, yes, I am sorry, I forgot to mentioned Dick Cheney, of course - he destroyed your country, "Saddam", got several thousand of his compatriots and hundreds of thousands of Iraquis killed so that he could then (using his position as the then US vice-president) get for his friends from the Halliburton company a few contracts (payed for by the US tax-payers, of course) to reconstruct what he destroyed.
Smart guy this Dick, isn't he? And even smarter are those in the US who will support his Republican friend Mitt W Romney in the upcoming presidential elections...
Ref.: http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2012/10/13/iraq-wants-russians-to-replace-exxon-at-west-qurna/
In Response

by: Hillary from: US
October 17, 2012 21:29
Eugenio, you smart a$$
do not be so hard on "Saddam".. he was so proud his former friend Dick Cheney had him hanged by new Shia Iraqi leaders.. while another former friend of US government - Egypt x-democrat Mubarak is likely to end up the same way, all at the same time as some other friends of US government - peaceful Wahhabi Sunni activists are setting up camps and rocket positions on Sinai peninsular to send a friendly Hanukkah messages to another friend of US government - Israel.. all leads to an ultimate and final victory of US government in Middle East..
I'm Hillary and I approve this message
In Response

by: Saddam from: Iraq
October 18, 2012 10:49
That's a lot of typing Eugenio. You must be a very angry man. Relax man, you'll live longer - like me.
I know Mahmud - he's a great democrat, like me. But what is this fantasy of yours about shia majority rule in Iraq? That's impossible - the US lost. And oil contracts? Ridiculous - even if the American imperialists had removed me from power, they'd never give the Iraqi govt that much independence in its economic matters - and they'd certainly insist on keeping their bases. This imaginary Iraq of yours sounds like some sort of independent democracy. Impossible! And I have great faith that my fellow Baathist democrat Assad will be fine just like me. Cheers from Baghdad! Stop by for tea at one of my palaces some time!! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to send more money to Palestinian freedom fighters. I'm Saddam and this message is FABULOUS!
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 18, 2012 08:35
Hey, Hillary, you are making some good points in your second posting :-))). I completely agree with you on Saddam, on Dick, on Mubarak and also happen to think that in the coming years the Hanukkahs will not be quite as enjoyable as they used to be :-)).
Happy Thanksgiving, Hillary, and please do let me know when you stop over in Vienna the next time - I will invite you for a cup of coffee in the Café Sacher in the case if the Chinese do not lend you any more money and you will be too short on cash to buy yourself a cup of coffee in the 1. Bezirk :-)).
In Response

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
October 18, 2012 09:47
It is evident that Mr.Eugenio joined the Austrian life and lost Russian authenticity..
Invite a lady for a cup of coffee-)))))..
Where is sturgeon,caviar,Smirnov vodka?..
you greedy man Eugenio...Austrians quickly you re-educated...
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
October 20, 2012 04:58
To Vakhtang: Well, Vakhtang, I will keep "sturgeon, caviar, Smirnov vodka" for some other occasion and definitely not for Hillary - like most other reps of the nation of Beavus and Butthead she is only familiar with the plastic food they get in McDonald's and and maybe a chewing-gum dazu. So, I don't really want to spoil her with sturgeon and caviar, let alone vodka - given all the problem she is currently stuck in, letting her taste alcochole might turn her into a drunkard faster than you know :-).

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