Mitt Romney’s position on the scheduled 2014 troop withdrawal from Afghanistan once again shifted Monday night during the final 2012 presidential debate.
Romney has criticized President Obama for announcing a set deadline in the past, beginning in 2011 when the Republican nominee kicked off his presidential bid. He said: “In Afghanistan, the surge was right, announcing a withdrawal date was wrong. The Taliban may not have watches, but they do have calendars.”
His official campaign website continues to call it a “mixed message” for “our Afghan allies” and a source of encouragement for the Taliban seeking to “wait us out.”
Although the Romney-Ryan ticket has said they agree with the president that 2014 is the right time to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Republican nominee has always left open the possibility that the date could change.
“I will evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders," he said in July during a speech to a group of veterans.
That statement followed Romney’s reaffirmation of a commitment to the 2014 timetable, leaving even some Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham confused as to what Romney’s exact position on Afghanistan encompassed.
At Monday night’s debate, Romney seemed eager to provide a clearer answer.
Presidential debate moderator Bob Schieffer asked both candidates what they would do if “the deadline arrives and it is obvious the Afghans are unable to handle their security? Do we still leave?”
This time Romney’s answer lacked its usual hedge.
“We’re going to be finished by 2014,” he said. “When I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.”
He continued on to praise progress made during the Obama administration years in office.
“The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so. We’ve seen progress over the past several years,” Romney said. “The surge has been successful, and the training program is proceeding at pace.”
Romney’s new conciliatory tone on Afghanistan and other foreign policy subjects seemed to surprise the president.
“Governor, the problem is, is that on a whole range of issues, whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s Afghanistan, whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s now Iran, you’ve been all over the map,” Obama said during the debate.