Forty-three Afghans were killed in a string of shootings and bombings across their country on Tuesday, in the deadliest day for civilians this year. The bloodshed marked an escalation of a campaign by Taliban insurgents to destabilize Afghanistan as the U.S. and NATO prepare to withdraw most foreign troops and hand over security duty to Afghans in 2014. Yet despite an increasingly heated presidential race, neither President Obama nor his GOP rival, Mitt Romney, is talking about the war effort, or the speed of withdrawal, on the campaign trail. Why the silence? Here, three possible explanations:
1. Neither has a clue what to do there: There are plenty of reasons why Obama and Romney have "said so little about Afghanistan," says Dexter Filkins at The New Yorker. "Their positions are virtually identical, the economy is more important, etc." Moreover, the U.S. is scheduled to stop fighting there in 28 months, and every day it becomes clearer that the Afghan state is taking over "a failing, decrepit enterprise," despite the 11 years, $400 billion, and 2,000 American lives we have lost there. Now, neither Obama nor Romney "knows what to do about the place."
2. There's no political gain in it: Speaking up on Afghanistan "could easily cost Obama or Romney votes," says Andrew J. Polsky at Oxford University Press. Obama's campaign strategy calls for appealing to centrists while mobilizing a Democratic base that is "conspicuously unenthusiastic about the Afghanistan conflict." The "political math" is pretty similar for Romney, and his base, except for some diehard conservatives, has no more "taste for the war" than anybody else.
3. Afghanistan just isn't as important as it (briefly) was: Everyone would be talking about Afghanistan if it "were truly a vital strategic interest, says Stephen M. Walt at Foreign Policy. But it's not. "It's a land-locked and impoverished country thousands of miles from our shores," and the only reason we went there at all was because some "misguided crackpots" hiding out there "got very lucky in staging a dramatic attack on U.S. soil." Now that they've all been "scattered and/or killed," Afghanistan has gone back to being "the strategic backwater it has always been." If the election's winner is smart, he won't think about Afghanistan any more than Carter and Reagan did about Vietnam.