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Afghanistan, Pakistan ignored in speech

September 01, 2012

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in his acceptance speech on Thursday night, did not say a word about Afghanistan, although the United States still has about 90,000 troops in that country.

In his address to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Mr Romney focused mainly on the US economy. The foreign policy of a superpower that often plays a decisive role in world affairs only received a passing reference, that too at the end of his speech.

Pakistan too was absent, as was Iraq. But Mr Romney did mention the May 2011 US raid in Abbottabad, praising his rival, President Barack Obama, for ordering the attack that killed Osama bin Laden.

He criticised President Obama for apologising to Afghanistan and other Muslim nations for reported excesses committed by US troops. Mr Obama also faced criticism for throwing “allies like Israel under the bus” and also for trying to engage Iran, rather than stopping its nuclear programme which, he said, posed an “existential threat” to Israel.

The convention’s two main foreign policy speakers – the 2008 Republican candidate John McCain and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also focused on issues other than the Afghan war.

Senator McCain was the only speaker who used the word Afghanistan.

“By committing to withdraw from Afghanistan before peace can be achieved and sustained, the president has discouraged our friends and emboldened our enemies, which is why our commanders did not recommend that decision and why they have said it puts our mission at greater risk,” he said.

Pakistan remained unmentioned throughout the convention. Later, political analysts explained that the Republicans made a conscious decision to avoid any reference to Pakistan because it brings back the memories of the Abbottabad raid and makes Mr Obama look good. Ms Rice, who was part of the Bush administration which invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq, ignored Afghanistan although she noted that Iraq’s “hostile neighbours are challenging the fragile democracy” in that country.

Libya, where a US military action helped remove Col Qadhafi, also was omitted. The Arab Spring that brought down totalitarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, however, found a place in Ms Rice’s speech as did the civil war in Syria.

“We have seen once again that the desire for freedom is universal – as men and women in the Middle East demand it,” she said. “Yet, the promise of the Arab Spring is engulfed in uncertainty; internal strife.” She noted that “dictators in Iran and Syria butcher their own people and threaten the security of the region,” but China and Russia prevent a response; and all wonder, ‘Where does America stand?’’

Mr Romney’s decision to omit Afghanistan from his speech, however, was noted by the US media, which criticised the Republican leader for failing to tell his nation how he wanted to deal with this war.

“Over two thousand Americans have died in the more than 10 years of that war, a war Mitt Romney has supported. Yet in his speech accepting his party’s nomination to be commander in chief, Mitt Romney said not a word about the war in Afghanistan,” wrote Bill Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and influential right-wing foreign policy voice.

“Nor did he utter a word of appreciation to the troops fighting there, or to those who have fought there. Nor for that matter were there thanks for those who fought in Iraq, another conflict that went unmentioned,” he added.

“Other than his support for Israel and rhetorical shots at Russia and China, it’s a mystery what Romney thinks about major international issues and where he would take the country,” noted Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

“We heard precious little about Mitt Romney’s plans for the country. By my count, Barack Obama’s 2008 convention speech spent 768 words describing his domestic and economic policies. Romney’s speech spent 260 words,” wrote Post blogger Ezra Klein.