Politico: Clint Eastwood at least said ‘Afghanistan’

August 31, 2012

Ann Romney rightly noted in a TV interview Friday morning that Clint Eastwood did a “unique thing” Thursday at the Republican National Convention in offering the nation his extended riff with an empty chair. But it was not just Eastwood’s form that was unique. He was also among the only convention speakers to mention the name of the country now home to our nation’s longest war: Afghanistan.

What President Barack Obama once called a “war that we have to win” the Associated Press now calls the “forgotten war” and this week in Tampa it was all but invisible. Neither GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, nor vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), nor former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mentioned Afghanistan directly, nor the tens of thousands of American men and women who continue to fight there.

There is no question that this most domestic of elections comes at a critical time for the U.S. economy. Unemployment remains above 8 percent and the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will stay that way through 2014. The fiscal cliff looms and threatens renewed recession, while the federal deficit is projected to remain above $1 trillion this year. More than 40 percent of the nation’s nearly 13 million unemployed have been so for more than six months and labor participation rates are nearing record lows.

All these grim numbers rightly keep the spotlight on domestic policy and which candidate can best revive the sputtering U.S. economy.

But there must be room for Americans and their leaders to discuss their country’s war, even though more than 60 percent of the public now says the fight is “not worth its costs.” However the public and their candidates feel about the winding-down in Afghanistan, the battle waged by U.S. troops each day should be more than a rhetorical asterisk for those seeking to become the nation’s commander in chief.

Both Romney and Ryan have indeed spoken of Afghanistan in recent days. Obama ‘s Friday visit to a military base also brought the issue of the war home. But, as the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekran noted recently, Romney and Obama “may not agree on much, but when it comes to the decade-old conflict, they have adopted the same strategy on the stump: Say as little as possible — sometimes not a word — and quickly change the subject.”

Some see this as a potential positive. As my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Max Boot noted in the Wall Street Journal, public “apathy” may present a “potential opportunity to finally get Afghanistan ‘right’—or at least as right as possible at this late stage.”

But only days after the United States logged its 2,000th death in Afghanistan and at a time of growing public concern and anger over “green-on-blue” killings, this week’s Republican National Convention and perhaps this entire presidential campaign look likely to be known more for what they have not said about the mission facing this country’s military than what they have.

America’s leaders, in fact, now sound more silent than Eastwood’s chair about their country’s longest war.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is the author of “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.” She analyzed public policy for PIMCO, after working as a journalist for the ABC News Political Unit and “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” She is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Follow her on Twitter at @gaylelemmon.