NEW HAVEN -- There was, with really no notable exception, an absence of discussion of the Afghanistan war during the course of the 2010 campaign. But that may have been more a product of the electoral landscape (congressional races often don't lend themselves to foreign policy debates) and strategic timelines (the start date for withdrawal begins in July 2011) than anything else.
And, indeed, during an interview Sunday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) provided some indication that Republicans would push U.S. permanency in Afghanistan in the years ahead, insisting that it would be "enormously beneficial" to show that type of force "in perpetuity."
"I think it would be enormously beneficial to the region as well as Afghanistan," Graham said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We have had air bases all over the world and a couple of air bases in Afghanistan would allow the Afghan security forces an edge against the Taliban in perpetuity. It would be a signal to Pakistan that the Taliban are never going to come back. In Afghanistan they could change their behavior. It would be a signal to the whole region that Afghanistan is going to be a different place.
"And if the Afghan people want this relationship, they are going to have to earn it. But I hope that they will seek a relationship with the United States so we can have an enduring relationship, economic and militarily and politically, and a couple of air bases in Afghanistan will give us an edge military, give the Afghan security forces an edge militarily to ensure that the country never goes back into the hands of the Taliban, which would be a stabilizing event throughout the whole region."
The word choice here by Graham may be a bit more dramatic than the policy prescription. The United States, as he noted, does have bases in Germany and Japan more than half-a-century after World War II ended.
But the notion that the U.S. imprint in Afghanistan will last as long as those two is something that America does not appear comfortable swallowing. Even President Obama has avoided talking about troop presences in those terms, saying only that a NATO contingent would remain in Afghanistan "long-term."