A potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 has questioned the value of the war in Afghanistan. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told reporters in Iowa that the U.S. should consider scaling down its military effort. "What is our mission? How many al Qaeda are in Afghanistan... Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?" asked Barbour, flouting the neo-conservative orthodoxy espoused by potential rivals and critical GOP powerbrokers. Could this be the beginning of a party split on Afghanistan?
Yes, and on Libya, too: Barbour didn't just question our intervention in Afghanistan, says Andy Kroll at Mother Jones, but also appeared to side with Obama on "the thorny issue of what to do about Libya." In a speech on Tuesday, Barbour said the idea of nation-building is "something we need to be very, very careful about." Barbour is distancing himself from Republican hawks. Will other members of the "increasingly polarized" GOP join him?
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This suggests a lively race: Mark this down as the "first sort of interesting event in the Republican presidential primary race," says Joe Klein at TIME. Barbour may not be an expert on foreign affairs, but the former RNC chair is "probably the smartest political strategist in the field." That means that more than a few Republicans agree with him — and also that we can expect a "real eye-opener" in the Republican primaries' foreign policy debate.
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Barbour can tell which way the wind is blowing: The longtime Republican insider isn't making a bold political stand, says Dan Amira at New York. He has simply read the opinion polls. Almost two-thirds (61 percent) of registered Republicans want to speed up our exit from Afghanistan, and 64 percent of "self-identified Tea Partiers" feel the same. Surely it's only a matter of time before "the rest of his fellow candidates-to-be" follow his lead?
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This pandering won't help: Barbour is clearly "seeking to pander to hardcore Tea Party activists," for whom foreign policy means little more than "building a bigger wall along our border with Mexico," says Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary. Acting like a "skinflint dove" might woo some caucus voters, but it's exactly the kind of cynical move that makes him an unlikely presidential contender.
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