Romney: Crisis in Afghanistan is a Humanitarian and Foreign Policy Tragedy

SALT LAKE CITY—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today discussed the crisis in Afghanistan with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union.

Excerpts of his interview can be found below. Full video can be found here.

Leaving Americans behind and leaving our Afghan friends behind, who worked with us, would put upon us and will put upon us a moral stain. This is the result of very ineffective decisions, terrible decisions, by the prior Administration and the current Administration. This did not have to happen. It was preventable. And let me note that’s very different than the military. Our military came in at the very last moment and has performed admirably, as far as I can tell, to move people out as quickly as possible. We didn’t have to be in this rush, rush circumstance with terrorists breathing down our neck. It’s the responsibility of the prior Administration and this Administration that has caused this crisis to be upon us and has led to what is, without question, a humanitarian and foreign policy tragedy.

There’s a political slogan, “end endless wars.” That doesn’t translate into a serious policy decision, and the real policy is this: You can’t, as one party, end a war. It takes two parties to end a war. The Taliban and the radical violent jihadists in the world haven’t stopped fighting. They’re going to continue to fight us. The war is not over. We’re just no longer in a place where the war had its apex, where the Taliban was able to allow Al-Qaeda to grow and attack us on 9/11. We went to Afghanistan because we got attacked on 9/11 and lost thousands of American lives. Now America is in more danger. The reason we have a military is to protect America, and the decision to pull our military out of Afghanistan puts us in greater danger. Don’t forget, we went to Afghanistan to knock down Al-Qaeda, but we stayed in Afghanistan to make sure they couldn’t reconstitute to attack us again. So, pulling out means we are less safe. And also recognize the war is not over. We’re just in a weaker position. We don’t have boots on the ground. We don’t have eyes on the ground. When they say we have over-the-horizon capacity, that’s a fancy phrase. What does it mean? It means we’re not there. The nearest American Air Force base is 1,000 miles away. I had over-the-horizon capabilities on my teenagers, which means I had no idea what they were doing. Likewise, this idea that we are still in control is not real, and America is in greater danger.

[W]e’re certainly less safe than we were when we had a group of, let’s say, 5,000 American service people in Afghanistan standing up as the backbone behind some 250,000 Afghan troops, who were keeping at bay the Taliban and other terror groups. That made us a great deal safer. We have tens of thousands of troops in Germany, South Korea, Japan. Why are they there? Not just as favors to those countries but because we believe that keeps us and the world safer. And the idea that we would keep several thousand troops in Afghanistan, as long as necessary, to keep us more safe is, of course, the appropriate policy to take. These political slogans come in the way—“End endless wars.” The war is not ended when only one party pulls out and the others continue to fight and now fight with more aggression. Going forward, we are going to have to recognize we are in a much more dangerous position and will have to invest, I’m afraid, more resources to keep ourselves safe.

The reality is, we even have a greater reason to remain troops in a place where there is hostility, because those people are going to bring their hostility to America, to Americans and our friends, whether we like it or not. The idea that somehow we could pull out of a dangerous place where radical violent jihadists are organizing, that we could pull out of that and that is going to stop them, that’s fantasy. They’ll continue in their effort to regroup and come after America. Don’t forget what they did in 9/11. The reason we were in Afghanistan is to keep another 9/11 from happening. Now we pull out and the Taliban is much stronger than they were before, in part because of all the armament we’ve given them. ISIS-K is now alive. The old ISIS that is still in Syria and Iraq, they’re stronger. These forces of hate that consider America the great Satan, they’re still out there. They’re still fighting us. That war, unfortunately, goes on. And the idea that we pulled out of one of the places that was essential to push back against them is an idea that makes me far more concerned than had we retain a small footprint there to support the people on the front lines—the Afghan national security forces that were doing a pretty darn good job.

I believe in their heart of hearts that they recognize that we have a moral responsibility, and in keeping with our national character, we welcome people into our country who seek asylum, and those particularly who have fought alongside our troops and have enabled our troops to have a higher degree of safety than they would have had otherwise. Those are people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, and we would welcome them into our country. I think it’s one of the characteristics of our great nation that we are a nation that welcomes with open arms our friends around the world. We’re talking 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, maybe 50,000 Afghans. How many are coming across the border illegally? That number is exceeded almost every month. So let’s put this in perspective. I for one, am very pleased we’ll have individuals that come to our country that can contribute to America and believe in the principles upon which our nation was founded.