Obama campaign thinks a general election on foreign policy works toward their favor, as the past few weeks have made clear. The President is trying to stake out a middle ground between the typical hawk and dove divide, highlighting his success in killing Osama bin Laden and engagement in Libya while also recognizing the country’s war-weary sentiment by extracting the country from Iraq and signing an agreement with the Afghanistan government to remove the United States from combat operations by 2014.
For a time it looked as if Mitt Romney might not fall under the influence of the neoconservative dogma that dominated the GOP’s foreign policy vision during the last decade. Like many of the other Republican presidential candidates, he expressed hesitance toward an indefinite military force in Afghanistan, recognizing the quagmire of the decade-long war. His tone has changed since he’s dispatched his nomination opponents and has attempted to contrast his views directly with Obama. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s turned to the neoconservative well of thought since his foreign policy team is largely staffed with former Bushites. He’s criticized Obama for setting a definitive timetable for pulling troops out of Afghanistan, asserting the standard Republican talking point that exact exits aide the Taliban by allowing them to plan for a new offensive once the United States has left the country.
That stance puts Romney at odds with the general public. A new AP poll finds that a record high number of Americans now oppose the country’s efforts in Afghanistan. Just 27 percent continue to favor the war, with 66 percent wanting to end the war efforts, including 40 percent who are “strongly” opposed to our involvement in Afghanistan. Approval for the war has dropped precipitously over the past several years. In 2010 the AP found 46 percent still in favor of the US’s efforts; that dropped to 37 percent last year. Romney’s message is probably well received by voters from his party—56 percent of Republicans in the poll said a continued military presence was beneficial for the stability of Afghanistan’s government. Independents don’t take that same view though; 43 percent of that group believes that having U.S. troops in Afghanistan actually hurts the country’s stability, compared to just 32 percent who thought our military forces are continuing to bolster Afghanistan’s democracy.
Obama isn’t quite in line with the view of the public either. He’s keeping troops abroad at a sustained level for several more years, and there will continue to be a large commitment of U.S. forces even after that official 2014 exit date. But his policies align far closer to general sentiment, and his rhetoric espouses the same ideals, unlike the bellicose promises of Romney.