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Did Hawkish Mitt Flap Too Far On Taliban?

It's easy to imagine the anxiety of Mitt Romney's advisers when debate crowds get as rowdy and bloodthirsty as the one attending last night's Republican affair in Myrtle Beach. Romney has shown that, even more than most politicians, he is unable to resist the gravitational pull of what he imagines his audience's id to be, which has led to some of his more unfortunate pronouncements. As it became clear that the Myrtle Beach crowd was in the mood to boo the mere mention of Mexico and Ron Paul's anti-interventionist pitch and to cheer Newt Gingrich's racially-tinged smackdown of Juan Williams, Romney's advisers had to be wondering what Romney would offer up as a crowd-pleaser. Well, one bit of red meat that he contributed that I'm surprised isn't getting more attention is his attack on the Obama administration for opening the way to negotiations with the Taliban. Not long ago, Romney was saying that it was time for us to get out of Afghanistan, declaring at the CNN debate in June that "it's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can" and that "we've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation." This caused dismay among the more hawkish elements of the Republican establishment, and Romney has over the past few months moved to a more ambivalent position -- looking ahead to the day when we can leave Afghanistan while at the same time attacking Obama for, well, preparing to leave Afghanistan.

But it seemed to be going a step further for Romney to be categorically opposing any negotiations with the Taliban -- contradicting one of his foreign policy advisers, as the debate moderator noted -- when it's hardly inconceivable that whoever wins in November will be having to, in some form or other, be talking with the Taliban. Here's the exchange:

BRET BAIER: Governor Romney, should the United States negotiate with the Taliban to end the fighting in Afghanistan?

ROMNEY: Of course not. And Speaker Gingrich is right. Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are. These people declared war on us. They've killed Americans. We go anywhere they are, and we kill them. And the -- the right thing for...


The right thing for Osama bin Laden was the bullet in the -- in the head that he received. That's the right thing for people who kill American citizens.


Now, the Taliban is killing Americans. This president has done an extraordinary thing. He announced the date of our withdrawal. He announced the date of the withdrawal of our surge forces based upon a political calendar, not the calendar that the commanders on the ground said it was based for our mission. That was wrong.


And then he announced the day that we're going to pull out of the country all together. And now he wants to negotiate from a position of extraordinary weakness? You don't negotiate from -- with your enemy from a position of weakness as this president has done.

The right course for America is to recognize we're under attack. We're under attack by people, whether they're Al Qaida or other radical violent jihadists around the world, and we're going to have to take action around the world to protect ourselves.

And hopefully we can do it as we did with Osama bin Laden, as opposed to going to war as we had to do in -- in the case of -- of Iraq. The right way, Congressman Paul, in my view, is -- to keep us from having to go to those wars is to have a military so strong that no one would ever think of testing it. That's the kind of military we have to have, and we have to pursue our interests around the world.


BAIER:: Governor Romney, Mitchell Rice (ph) -- Mitchell Rice (ph), who I believe is one of your top foreign policy advisers, said that the Taliban may well be, quote, "our enemy and our negotiating partner." He said this means that some type of negotiated solution is the best near-term bet to halt the fighting. Is he wrong?

ROMNEY: Yes. The -- the right course for America is not to negotiate with the Taliban while the Taliban are killing our soldiers. The right course is to recognize they're the enemy of the United States. It's the vice president who said they're not the enemy of the United States. The vice president's wrong. They are the enemy. They're killing American soldiers.

We don't negotiate from a position of weakness as we're pulling our troops out. The right course for us is to strengthen the Afghan military force so they can reject the Taliban.

Think what it says to the people in Afghanistan and the military in Afghanistan, when we're asking them to stand up and fight to protect the sovereignty of their people, if they see us, their ally, turning and negotiating with the very people they're going to have to protect their nation from. It's the wrong course. The vice president's wrong. We should not negotiate with the Taliban. We should defeat the Taliban.

I left the applause markers in the transcript because, well, when you're dealing with a Romney answer, they're a relevant part of the exchange.