Bennett's attack was triggered by recent debate statements by Lee about Afghanistan. Those statements are best summed up by this explanation on Mike Lee's website: "My policy on Afghanistan is simple: Our troops are there to take out military targets — things that present a clear and present danger to our national security — and should be brought home as soon as possible after all such targets have been destroyed or neutralized and the Afghan National Army has been trained sufficiently to protect their own land from further Taliban incursion." This represents the proper constitutional use of American military power outside the United States; namely, go in, subjugate the enemy, and then get out. No nation-building, no peace-keeping, no wiping babies' asses.
Amongst the group of seconds Bennett brought to the news conference included Maj. Gen. Peter Cooke, who said "I don't know if they're naive or they're trying to get political gain. Now is not a time for either. ... One must know those kinds of comments hurt our soldiers engaged in fighting." Former Utah U.S. Senator Jake Garn, R-Utah, a retired brigadier general in the Utah Air National Guard, said wars in Korea and Vietnam offered lessons for involvement in Afghanistan now that Lee has not learned. Garn maintains that America pulled out too soon from those two countries. "We shouldn't have a nuclear threat from North Korea. Vietnam should not all be communist. We have hindsight to prove that we've got to stay firm in Afghanistan and not make the same mistakes we did in all those other wars."
I have to break this off momentarily to disagree with Garn. We lost in Korea because we played for the tie. MacArthur wanted to go into China while they were still in recovery mode from their revolution and vulnerable, but Truman wimped out and fired him. Ditto Vietnam - had we bombed the dykes on the Red River near Hanoi, Uncle Ho [Chi Minh] would have cried "Uncle" the very next day. When you fight to win, you shorten the conflict.
Bennett also brought along some eye candy in the person of former Miss Utah Jill Stevens along with Layne Pace, an attack helicopter pilot in Afghanistan who leads efforts to help orphans there, to press home the attack on Lee. However, none of Lee's critics offered any suggestions on how we should wage the war in Afghanistan if President Karzai follows through on his threat to jump to the Taliban.
In response, Mike Lee said Bennett not only is twisting his views but also may have out-generaled himself to Lee's advantage. By going on the offensive, Bennett's showing vulnerability, and may have done Lee a favor by implicitly confirming Lee is atop the seven Republicans challenging Bennett and presents enough danger to be criticized. Lee also said the attack by Bennett's allies was not so much about Afghanistan, but because some polling by candidates shows Lee ahead in delegate support at the state convention. Lee said his own polling shows him with a double-digit lead over Bennett. Lee's full response is available HERE, where he wrote "I have always been a strong advocate and supporter of our military. Those serving in our Armed Services are brave men and women who are willing to sacrifice all they have for the freedoms we enjoy. Anyone who would question my support for, or commitment to, our military and national defense has either not explored my positions or has been misled by distorted political rhetoric.”
Lee's polling statement contrasts strongly with an April 8th Rasmussen poll which shows Bennett with 37 percent, Lee and Tim Bridgewater with 14 percent each, Merrill Cook with 6 percent, Cherilyn Eagar with 4 percent, and 21 percent still not sure. The fact that Cook is polling ahead of Eagar makes the poll a bit suspect, in my opinion.
It also appears that fellow Republican candidate Tim Bridgewater may have piggy-backed on Bennett's attack. On his website, Bridgewater wrote, “I feel that the veterans’ concerns regarding some of Mike Lee’s statements and positions on foreign policy are completely justified. To describe the brave efforts made by our men and women in the military as “an international meals on wheels program” is offensive. I was present when Mike Lee suggested that there may be “as many thugs there [Afghanistan] as there are right here in Utah County” and I find these statements to be very troubling. These comments show a profound lack of understanding in regards to national security and world affairs. I am sure Mike’s response will be that I am attacking his position for political purposes, but that would simply be an effort to deflect from his indefensible comments and position. These kinds of statements on something as important as our national security cannot be ignored.” This, combined with Bridgewater's previous support of John McCain, can only serve to fuel perception that Tim Bridgewater would actually be little more than Bennett Lite.
The state caucuses occur on May 8th. No one will get the 60 percent or more of the delegates necessary to avoid a primary fight, so the top two finishers will go to a primary. Mike Lee appears to be positioned to be one of the top two. Will Bennett be the other?