Pawlenty, Romney assail Obama for haste in withdrawal plan

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"I thought his speech tonight was deeply concerning. Look how he phrased the outcome of this war: he said we need to end the war 'responsibly,'" Pawlenty said on Fox News following the speech. "When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully."

Both he and Romney, two top rivals for the GOP's presidential nomination in 2012, accused Obama of taking politics into account too much in his decision-making process. 

"We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan," Romney said in a statement. "This decision should not be based on politics or economics."

The Republicans hoping to challenge Obama face a quandary: They're seeking ways to differentiate themselves from Obama when it comes to the war in Afghanistan and other military engagements. But at the same time, they don't want to appear too far out of lockstep from other elected Republicans, particularly on Capitol Hill. 

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were measured in their reaction to Obama's speech, expressing hope that the president would be flexible in his timeline if military commanders ask for leeway. 

But there are growing signs of division within the GOP toward the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, driven in part by the length of each conflict and the hundreds of billions of dollars in costs. A Pew poll released earlier this week found that 31 percent of Republicans now favor withdrawing troops from Afghanistan as quickly as possible; that's a 12 percent increase over the past year alone. 

That sort of sentiment has prompted some of the party's older guard to lash out against the current presidential field. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, warned against a creeping tide of isolationism within the party.

Most of the Republicans running for president or considering running didn't immediately release a statement following Obama's speech, itself a comment on the growing divisions within the GOP, and how its future standard-bearers are trying to gauge in which direction Republican opinion is moving. 

Huntsman is betting it's moving toward a more limited U.S. presence throughout the world, as he talked throughout the day about the need for rebuilding at home rather than abroad -- a thought Obama echoed in his speech tonight. 

"Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the president discussed tonight," he said. "We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility, while leaving in place a strong counter intelligence and special forces effort proportionate to the threat."

Ron Paul's campaign issued a statement calling the president's withdrawal plans a "purely political move."

“This move is too little, too late,” said Paul's campaign chairman Jesse Benton.  “When candidate Obama was running for the presidency, he campaigned largely on bringing our troops home, yet we are not only still in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we've expanded into Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan. Despite this purely political move, there will still be thousands of American soldiers in harm’s way by the end of this drawdown.”