In a speech in Iowa Tuesday night, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour became the first establishment GOP presidential candidate to express skepticism about the Afghan war.
He also said that the U.S. should consider reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan. "I think we need to look at that," he said when asked if the U.S. should scale back its presence.
"What is our mission?" Barbour said. "How many Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan. ... Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?"
That last line echoes an argument made to me by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in an interview late last year: a CIA report estimated there are under 100 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, so the U.S. should not be pouring so many resources into the country.
It's perhaps not a coincidence that Barbour, who is known as more of a political operator than a policy thinker, decided to reveal his skepticism about Afghanistan on a day when a big new poll showed a large majority of Americans opposing the war. That said, Barbour did not take a specific position on what the U.S. should actually do in Afghanistan. (In this way he is like Mike Huckabee, who last month expressed some combination of doubt and puzzlement about the issue.)
Now, look out for a round of columns from the neocon wing of the GOP railing against Barbour for questioning the war. Keep an eye on this URL. Can Barbour take the heat?