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Rick Santorum Leaves Afghanistan Out Of Foreign Policy Speech (VIDEO)


First Posted: 04/28/11 05:51 PM ET Updated: 06/28/11 06:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Likely Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum sharply criticized President Obama's "confused foreign policy in the hottest spots in the world" in a speech on Thursday, singling out areas such as Iran, Libya and Venezuela. Afghanistan, however, was never mentioned during his prepared remarks, even though it is the site of the longest war in U.S. history.

When pressed on this point by reporter Scott Conroy from Real Clear Politics during the Q&A portion that followed the speech, which was sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center at the National Press Club, Santorum said that his remarks were meant to be forward-looking, and he hadn't wanted to get "bogged down."

"I did mention some of the current conflicts, but I did try not to get bogged down in that -- just tried to paint more of a larger vision of our overall policy," he said.

He then defended U.S. involvement in the Afghan war and attacked Obama for laying out a withdrawal plan that was more rapid than what some in the military were advocating. Obama has said that U.S. troops will begin leaving in July 2011 and end combat operations in 2014. Top administration and military officials have said the drawdown this summer will be minimal, and that there will be some U.S. presence in the country beyond the stated end date.

"To work in concert with all the people that you assign to the region and come up with a plan that has buy-in and execute it," said Santorum. "I have concerns that that is not happening. We have conditions that were set by this administration, time limits, limits on resources, that the people on the ground were not in favor of. I think we also have some other factors at play, but the bottom line is a president should not involve the American military unless it has a clear path to victory, and pursues that path aggressively."

When asked if he believed the United States has a clear path to victory in Afghanistan, Santorum replied, "I do."

WATCH:

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist has been pressing conservatives to start discussing alternative strategies in Afghanistan. He told The Huffington Post that the fact that Santorum didn't mention the war raises a question about how critical it is to U.S. national security.

"[It] raises the question of why you spend $120 billion on something that isn't important enough to bring up in a conversation about what a president ought to do as [commander in chief]," said Norquist.

The war in Afghanistan is a tough subject for the 2012 presidential contenders. Although costs continue to soar and polls show most Americans want to withdraw, Republicans are reluctant to break with the military and disagree with Gen. David Petraeus out of fear that they will be criticized as not supporting the troops -- a charge they leveled at Democrats who advocated for withdrawal from Iraq during the Bush administration.

Yet at the same time, it's an area where a Republican candidate could distinguish him or herself from a crowded field, as former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour was beginning to do before he announced Monday he would not be running. Barbour first spoke out publicly on the issue last month in Iowa, asking whether the number of al Qaeda members in Afghanistan warranted "a 100,000-man Army mission." Barbour's communications director Jim Dyke confirmed to The Huffington Post that had the governor decided to run, he would have laid out a comprehensive foreign policy plan with a focus on Afghanistan.

Gary Johnson and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) are two contenders who have also staked out skeptical views of the war, although they are both considered long-shots for the nomination. One well-known Republican who may still enter the field is former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who has said he sees no "end game" in sight in Afghanistan and lacks confidence in Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Norquist said that if a Republican candidate were to jump in and effectively challenge the orthodoxy on the war, it would need to be someone with "impeccable conservative credentials," specifically naming Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin as two people who could do so.

Furthermore, any attempt to change the conversation would need to "articulate how wonderful everybody was when you engaged in the project, how bad the bad guys are, how good we are and now for our interests, we need to be doing something different," Norquist said.

He added that while it's understandable that many candidates would prefer to focus on the economy first and foremost, anyone serious about cutting federal spending would need to look at the war.

"What is that the economic consultants always say? If your company wasn't doing this, would they start? If we weren't occupying Afghanistan, would we start? And if the answer's no, then why do you keep doing it? I think that's not a bad question to ask," he said.

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