Top Romney surrogate Gov. Tim Pawlenty broke with the presumptive nominee on Afghanistan policy in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday.
The former Minnesotta governor and a top vice presidential contender criticized President Barack Obama's decision to publicly announce a deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan — and dinged Romney for endorsing the same.
"In Afghanistan, I wish the President would not have set an arbitrary and public deadline," Pawlenty said. "The 2014 deadline that both he and others have mentioned, including Governor Romney, may end up to be an appropriate deadline, Hugh, but you don’t announce that and make it arbitrary. If you have a deadline, you keep it internal, and you also scale up…"
In a CBS News /National Journal foreign policy debate in November, Romney endorsed the 2014 deadline that Obama is working off, though said he disagreed with the speed of the withdrawal. "And the timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces," Romney said.
Pawlenty's disagreement with Romney is unlikely to jeopardize his place atop make veepstakes lists, but is a policy break that he will have to explain if he is selected to be Romney's running mate.
UPDATE: Romney was critical of Obama's decision to announce a troop withdrawal date in a January Republican presidential debate in Florida:
This president, however, has done -- made it very difficult for our troops to be able to be successful in that mission by, number one, announcing a withdrawal date for our troops; number two, drawing down our surge troops faster than the time the commanders on the ground felt was necessary -- you don't draw them down during the middle of the fighting season; and finally, by not overseeing elections in Afghanistan to assure that the selection of their president was seen by the people as being legitimate. He has failed in executing a policy in Afghanistan that would optimize our prospects of success.
Romney press secretary Andrea Saul sends this statement:
“President Obama’s politicized decision making on troop levels and withdrawal schedules have undermined our mission in Afghanistan, and his public announcements of hard withdrawal dates have encouraged the Taliban to wait us out. Governor Romney supports a responsible transition in Afghanistan based on conditions on the ground and the best advice of the military commanders, and he would not have publicly announced the 2014 timetable as President Obama did.”