By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman offered differing views Tuesday nighton how a president should reach decisions about matters such as U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Romney made it clear he believes a president should listen to his commanders on the ground when making such a decision. "The commander-in-chief makes that decision based upon the input of people closest to the ground," Romney said during Tuesday night's CNN Republican presidential debate.
Huntsman said just listening to the commanders on the ground would be a mistake for a president.
"I also remember when people listened to the generals in 1967 and we heard a certain course of action in South Asia that didn't serve our interests very well. The president is the commander-in-chief and ought to be informed by a lot of different voices, including of those of his generals on the ground."
While they differed on how much influence the generals on the ground should have, they both implied that the president's military advisers speak with one voice on these matters. That's not always the case.
In December of 2009, President Barack Obama was mulling over how many "surge" troops to send to Afghanistan. Shortly before he made his decision, CNN sources said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was recommending 40,000 more troops. Obama decided to send 30,000.
Last summer when Obama was trying to decide how many U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan, then-Gen. David Patraeus, McChrystal's replacement in Afghanistan, was recommending, according to sources, pulling out 5,000 troops. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates was looking at a 10,000-troop pullout. Obama decided to pullout 33,000 by the end of next summer.
After the president's announcement, Petraeus admitted the number was higher than he thought should be removed. "The ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation, if you will, in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended," Petraeus said last June.
Even Adm. Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thought the president's withdrawal plans were more bold than he wanted to see. "What I can tell you is, the president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept," Mullen said.
Had President Obama listened to just his commanders in Afghanistan, as Romney seemed to indicate, the nature of the war in Afghanistan could have looked very different over then next year.