Romney released a statement late Tuesday that said he was “pleased” the president went to Afghanistan, as “our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our president about what is at stake in this war.”
Romney did not criticize Obama and did not take a position on the strategic partnership agreement Obama signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which allows for a U.S. presence in Afghanistan to remain through 2024.
Other Republicans took a harder line.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) blasted Obama and called the Afghanistan visit “campaign-related.”
“This trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national-security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military,” Inhofe said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this president has allowed Washington and campaign politics to dictate his strategy in Afghanistan, rather than the conditions on the ground.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said the president’s trip was “long overdue,” picking up on a line of GOP criticism that Obama has lost public support for the war by not talking about it enough and stressing its importance.
“It shouldn't require congressional pressure, editorials from leading newspapers and a presidential election to get the president to fulfill his role as commander in chief and speak to the American people about the war in Afghanistan,” McKeon said.
But several defense hawks in the Senate — some of the most vocal critics of Obama’s Afghanistan policies — focused on the promise of the agreement inked with the Afghans Tuesday, rather than attacking Obama.
Obama’s 2008 opponent Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who repeatedly took aim at Obama’s bin Laden campaign video, said Tuesday that the trip was important because of the partnership agreement.
“While I will carefully examine the details of this agreement, I am hopeful that it will send a signal to friends and enemies in the region that the United States is committed to a secure and free Afghanistan,” McCain said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a big proponent of the strategic partnership agreement, congratulated Obama and his team for signing the deal. “This is a day I have been looking forward to for over two years,” Graham said.
“The agreement sends a signal we are not abandoning Afghanistan and that we will provide assistance to the Afghans as they take the lead engaging the enemy,” he said. “It is an insurance policy against the re-emergence of Taliban and al Qaeda.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who has seen vice presidential rumors swirl after campaigning with Romney, also focused on the agreement, and not the president’s speech.
“While many challenges remain, this strategic partnership agreement signals to friend and foe alike that the U.S. will remain a key security partner of the Afghan people for years to come,” she said.