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Haley Barbour Creates Contrast With Call for Drawdown in Afghanistan

Haley Barbour somehow thinks he can be elected President next year, but if that means his political instincts take him to this place, I’d say he’s worth having in the field:

(Barbour) also said that the U.S. should consider reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan. “I think we need to look at that,” he said when asked if the U.S. should scale back its presence.

But he said his reasoning isn’t financial.

“What is our mission?” Barbour said. “How many Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan. … Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?”

“I don’t think our mission should be to think we’re going to make Afghanistan an Ireland or an Italy” or a Western-style democracy, he said.

These are things you’re just not supposed to say in Washington, despite the fact that we’ve been in Afghanistan longer than the iPod has existed and there’s no end in sight.

Barbour also raised the possibility of cuts in defense, saying, “Anybody who says you can’t save money at the Pentagon has never been to the Pentagon.”

Obviously this is basically positioning, with Barbour trying to differentiate himself in a crowded primary field (at least at some point we think it will be crowded). But if he wants to question the mission, whether for political reasons or because he thinks Republicans will be receptive to the message, who am I to criticize?

Like Joe Klein, I doubt Barbour’s timeline will look all that different than Obama’s in the final analysis. But Barbour probably read a poll showing 2/3 of the public thinks the war should no longer be fought, and considered it a good idea to force the President to defend the minority position. Anything which puts a little pressure on Obama on Afghanistan is a good thing. Maybe the foreign policy mandarins will get his back on this, but the public won’t. And in an election year, that actually matters.

I also agree that, to the extent this signals a shift away from what passes for foreign policy thinking in the Republican Party, i.e. “more war today, more war tomorrow, more war forever,” it’s a good thing. Let’s see that split with neoconservatism in the GOP primaries.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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