Lindsey Graham likens Mitt Romney's foreign policy to that of Jimmy Carter

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., questions Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 29, 2010, during her confirmation hearing before the committee.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Tuesday criticized presidential candidate Mitt Romney's stance on Afghanistan, warning that Republicans stood the risk of looking like former President Jimmy Carter if they followed Romney's lead on the issue.

"From the party's point of view, the biggest disaster would be to let Barack Obama become Ronald Reagan and our people become Jimmy Carter," said Graham, according to the Hill.

Romney said during Mondays' GOP presidential debate that the U.S. should "bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can," in a fashion that was consistent with the recommendations of commanders in the region, and argued that the U.S. couldn't "try and fight a war of independence for another nation."

"Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban," Romney said.

Graham argued that Romney's characterization of the war, from the perspective of U.S. interests, was problematic.

"This is not a war of independence," he said. "This is a war to protect America's national vital security interests."

Graham expressed overall discontent with how Republican presidential candidates addressed the issue in the previous night's debate.

"No one articulated last night a strategic vision why it's important we get it right in Afghanistan, what happens to our country if we don't," he said.

Republican presidential candidates have so far expressed fairly distinct viewpoints on the issue, many of which back away from more hawkish doctrines espoused by many Republicans in recent years.

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and recent ambassador to China, argued that a swift military withdrawal from Afghanistan (with contingencies) was the will of the American people - and in the best interest of improving the U.S. economy.

"There's the desire on the part of most Americans to begin phasing out as quickly as possible," he said, according to the New York Times.

"This would mean that the very expensive boots on the ground may be something that is not critical for our national security needs," he continued. "Nor is it something we can afford at this point in our economic history. I think most Americans would say it's probably a good transition point."

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, for his part, argued that while the terms of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan should be determined by the word of military commanders and ground conditions there, the goal was not to "rebuild their country."

"We have to remember why we invaded the country in the first place," he said, according to the Times.

And while Pawlenty noted that the time for withdrawal had not yet arrived, given the security conditions there, he argued that "our mission in Afghanistan is not to stay there forever or to stay there for 10 more years to rebuild their country."

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., expressed disappointment over the national security discussion in Monday's debate.

"I didn't see anyone really articulate the real sense of urgency and what Republicans stand for," he said, according to the Hill. "Republicans were tending to try to moderate and be everyone's friend, with the exception of our friend from the pizza shop," he said, referring to candidate Herman Cain.

"I was incredibly disappointed," Graham said, of the debate, according to the Wall Street Journal. "No one seemed to have a passion for the idea that we're fighting radical Islam and the center of that battle is Afghanistan."

He added that, given the current dialogue among the GOP presidential contenders, he feared Republicans could lose their authority on national security issues.

"I'm not going to let that happen without some speaking out," he said.