Glaring Omission in Republican Debate: Why So Little Mention of Our Costly War?

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

Republican presidential hopefuls (L-R) former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain pose at the first New Hampshire debate of the 2012 campaign at St. Anslems College in Manchester, New Hampshire on June 13, 2011.

At 10 past 8 Monday evening, Michele Bachmann decided to separate herself from the six guys next to her on the stage by telling John King of CNN why she had come to St. Anselm College. It was the fifth anniversary of the day a young man from New Hampshire was killed in Afghanistan, but she made no mention of that. "John ... I just want to make an announcement," she said as the first big TV debate among Republican candidates for President began. "I filed today my paperwork to seek the office of the presidency of the United States ... So I wanted you to be the first to know."

Bachmann was trying to provide some contrast to her fellow candidates, the six men who looked as if they were about to be inducted into the local Rotary Club: smiling, amiable, eager to please and ready to drop the hammer at any given moment on Barack Obama for everything from unemployment to health care to same-sex marriage but unwilling to tackle the U.S.'s military engagement for the past 10 years. The crowd for the debate was middle-aged, white, patriotic and ready to roll for anyone who could convince them that competence could beat charisma in 2012. Moments before the TV light went on, an old guy with a white beard shouted, "Let's do the Pledge." The CNN floor producer asked, "You want to lead it?"

"Yeah," the old guy said. And he did. The crowd stood, hands over hearts, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to great applause.

It wasn't until about an hour and a half in, after Romney gave everyone an update on the Bruins game, that the candidates had to turn to that sticky subject of war, when a retired Navy man with three sons serving asked if it was time to start withdrawing from Afghanistan. "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Taliban military in a way that they're able to defend themselves," Romney said. As he said "Taliban military," the camera cut to someone in the audience in military dress, who winced. Romney corrected his mistake, but the deed was done. To rub it in, Paul followed Romney by saying, "I wouldn't wait for my generals. I'm the Commander in Chief."

New Hampshire is not that different from the 49 other states. Anxiety and apprehension fill the air. Confidence in the country is shaky as people pay more than $4 a gal. for gas, listen to news about staggering debt, watch home prices and wages wallow in the shadow of what sure seems like a double dip or, at least, a never ending recession. In the morning, traffic on I-93 South toward Boston resembles the highway from Baghdad to Kuwait as thousands of New Hampshire residents head to jobs in Massachusetts.

Our exhausted nation has been at war for 10 years. Twenty-three residents of New Hampshire have been killed in Iraq, 13 others in Afghanistan. Hundreds have been wounded, physically as well as psychically, and require costly care. As the candidates tried to please the crowd in St. Anselm with hockey scores, 20 miles (32 km) away, on Route 114 near Henniker, there was a sign dedicating a bridge to the memory of Sergeant Russell M. Durgin, 10th Mountain Division, United States Army. Although he grew up in Henniker, he won't be voting in the Republican primary. He was killed in the Korengal Valley, Kunar province, Afghanistan, on June 13, 2006, at the age of 23.