Among those who've seemingly turned against the war, notably, is Mitt Romney, the perceived frontrunner in the GOP field who ran on a strong national-security platform in 2008 as he competed for votes with the likes of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.
"We've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban," Romney said during CNN's televised debate in New Hampshire June 13, prompting Sen. Lindsey Graham to respond on "Meet the Press" that "If you think the pathway to the GOP nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama's left on Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, you're going to meet a lot of headwinds."
GOP uncertainty over Afghanistna has been brewing since former Republican National Committee chairman Micheal Steele's horrendously inaccurate attempt to saddle Obama with the political burden of America's continued presence, when he claimed last summer at a fundraiser in Connecticut that the war (launched in 2001 by then-president George W. Bush) had been Obama's idea. As more attention has turned to Afghanistan withdrawal, Republicans are still figuring out how to confront the specific questions, logistical and ideological, associated with the war. Is it a vital U.S. national-security imperative to stay until we're certain Afghanistan's central government can function in every province? Is it a war for Afghan "independence"? Different Republicans are answering these questions in different ways.
Nor is it clear what Republican primary voters will think about the war when states begin choosing a candidate in early 2012.
While the rest of the country opposes the war, Republicans favor it. According to a June 3 - 7 CBS poll, 53 percent of Republicans said America is "doing the right thing" by fighting there, while 41 percent said the opposite. (In the same poll, 43 percent of all respondents said the U.S. is doing the "right thing," while 51 percent sided against the war.) Republicans could, however, be turning against the war: In its June 15-19 survey, Pew found a nine-percentage-point swing in favor of immediate withdrawal among Republicans since May. In a May 5-8 poll, 34 percent of Republicans favored removing U.S. troops as soon as possible; a month later, that figure had climbed to 43 percent, closer to the 40 percent Pew found in April.
If Republicans nominate a pro-war candidate, voters who favor withdrawal will have no choice other than Obama on this issue. For the president, Afghanistan politics could come down to convincing his anti-war supporters he's on their side, and fighting against deflation and fatigue on this issue among Democrats and independents who backed him in 2008.
But it's quite possible Republicans will select an anti-war presidential candidate in 2012, even one who makes a point to criticize Obama for not bringing troops home faster. In that case, Obama could feel even more political pressure to withdraw faster, and Afghanistan politics could center not only on Obama-voter fatigue on the war issue, but on honing messages to attract independents, who oppose the war 53 percent to 39 percent according to CBS and want to bring troops home as soon as possible by a 57-percent majority according to Pew. Or, if the candidates sound similar enough, Afghanistan withdrawal could be moot as a 2012 campaign issue.