The internal GOP battle over U.S. policy in Afghanistan took another turn last night when Gov. Rick Perry endorsed Jon Huntsman's call for a speedy withdrawal -- and hawkish GOP senators are not happy with Perry over the remarks.
"I agree with Gov. Huntsman when we talk about it's time to bring our young men and women home as soon, and obviously as safely, as we can," Perry said. "And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time."
As the Perry policy team grows, some of the foreign policy advisors suggested to him by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are taking full-time positions on the campaign. The Cable has learned that Rumseld book researcher Victoria Coates, also known as the Red State blogger "Academic Elephant," has taken on the role of foreign policy director for the campaign.
Still, Perry's foreign policy identity doesn't always follow the GOP hawk's playbook, and that is irking some senior GOP senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
"I'm disappointed that some people in our party are not embracing the concept that the outcome in Afghanistan will determine our national security fate for decades to come," Graham told The Cable, when asked about Perry's remarks. "I would like to hear [Perry] talk about what does it matter to us as a nation whether Afghanistan is a success or a failure."
"We have 300 million people with targets on their backs here at home. The 100,000 are fighting these guys over there so we don't have to fight them over here," Graham said. "We are going to hand over responsibility to the Afghan government. But the 100,000 troops are needed to stabilize the country."
"Romney's been great, he says ‘listen to the generals,'" Graham said. "The transition plan has been accelerated [by Obama] in a very unwise way."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he didn't want to criticize any presidential candidates' statements, but did say that the isolationist trend in the GOP is growing.
"I've voiced many time concerns about the trends toward isolationism and that's always been present in our party, but there's no doubt the economic situation has caused them to gain more adherence," McCain told The Cable.
In a sign of how internally conflicted the GOP is on Afghanistan, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) appeared undecided on whether he supported President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw all 30,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by the summer of 2012.
"For some time, we've said publicly we're very concerned about the way we're distorting the Afghan economy right now," he told The Cable, referring to the influx of foreign aid.
But does he support Obama's policy?
"I think the initial steps that have been taken -- I'm not talking about the whole 30,000 -- I don't have any problem with the initial steps," Corker said.
But what about the withdrawal of the entirety of the 30,000 surge troops? Corker said that policy probably will get changed anyway.
"Well, each step along the way, I'm sure the president is going to massage what he's doing.... For what it's worth, we're spending a lot of time in our office on that. I'm taking a trip there in the near future and you're asking me this question six weeks earlier than you should."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.