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Fracturing GOP Positions on War in Afghanistan

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Lindsey Graham and other GOP leaders support the White House’s path forward in Afghanistan.

Senior Republicans on Tuesday rebuffed calls from some in their party to reassess the war in Afghanistan in the wake of a series of setbacks, while the White House said it is staying the course and reminding voters that the course is to bring the troops home.

Setbacks — including the reported massacre of women and children by a single U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, the continued deaths of allied soldiers and riots in the wake of the inadvertent burning of Qurans — have raised new questions about the role of U.S. troops more than a decade into the war. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) questioned whether the war was “doable” on “Fox News Sunday,” and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) on the “Today” show on Monday called for a reassessment in the wake of the massacre. Now Republican hawks on Capitol Hill are worried that some in their party are playing to the public in the heat of a campaign instead of putting national security first, while longtime GOP critics of the war see the momentum on their side.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), in particular, ripped Gingrich.

“I’ve been very disappointed in Newt Gingrich’s statements,” Graham said. “We’ve got enough people in politics who are looking to polls and blowing with the wind. I’m not interested in nominating someone who doesn’t understand the strategic importance of Afghanistan.”

Gen. John Allen’s plan to withdraw troops and transition to Afghan control by 2014 is “doable,” Graham contended.

“I think Republicans are making emotional decisions,” he said. “Being war-weary is understandable. Republicans and Democrats, everyone in America is war-weary, but the enemy is not. ... If we speed up withdrawal because of political concerns in November, then you are undercutting the general and we’re going to fail.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also strongly disagreed with Gingrich.

“It may sound great in an election year and [makes] a good sound bite, but it is not the sound strategic decision to make when we’re looking at our national security interests,” she said. “We cannot afford to have Afghanistan again become a launching pad for terrorist attacks.”

However, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) signed a letter urging an accelerated withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, said the push to keep the war going is waning in Republican ranks.

Paul cited public opinion polls showing that Republican voters increasingly oppose the war and noted Gingrich’s change of heart as well.

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