When 2012 GOP presidential candidate frontrunner Mitt Romney called for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan at a debate last week, he ignited a discussion -- and perhaps division -- amongst Republicans who support the war and those who are advocating a more rapid drawdown.
"It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes from our generals," Romney said at the June 13 debate. "Our troops should not go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban."
Fellow GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has also come out against a significant continuing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
"If you can't define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we're wasting our money, and we're wasting our strategic resources," Huntsman told Esquire Magazine in its August issue. "It's a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it's now or years from now, we'll have an incendiary situation... Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don't think that serves our strategic interests."
GOP 2012 presidential candidate and Texas Rep. Ron Paul has perhaps come out the strongest, calling for an immediate withdrawal.
"I wouldn't wait for my generals. I'm the commander in chief. I make the decisions," Paul said at the same June 13 debate. "I tell the generals what to do and I would bring them home as quickly as possible."
The candidates' views contrast with those of prominent Republicans Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who spoke out against a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"I wish that candidate Romney and all the others would sit down with General Petraeus and understand how this counterinsurgency is working and succeeding," McCain said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week."
"And it still has enormous challenges; the Karzai government, the latest problems with Pakistan. But for us to abandon Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Taliban and radical Islamic extremists, I think, would be repeating the mistakes we made before."
McCain, ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the counterinsurgency strategy was succeeding, and that he was in support of a modest withdrawal of 5,000 to 10,000 troops.
"It's clear that we do need to move into eastern Afghanistan and finish this fight with one more season," he said.
Sen. Graham called precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan a potential national security mistake.
"If we accelerate withdrawal right now because we're war-weary, we're going to lose this war." Graham said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"It is in our national security interest to make sure the Taliban never come back. If we fail in Afghanistan, they will kill every moderate who tried to help us, and no one in the future will step up. It will destabilize Pakistan beyond what exists today. It will be a colossal national security mistake," he said.