G.O.P. 2012 round-up: Afghanistan; Palin cancels Sudan trip; Huntsman talks foreign policy with big-name advisors


Afghanistan was obviously front and center on the minds of the Republican hopefuls today. With the race for the nomination heating up, the potential candidates wasted little time weighing in on Obama's plan. Here's a look at where they came down -- plus, some of today's other foreign-policy news from the field.


GOP Candidates: Obama went too far... or he didn't go far enough

The candidates' reactions to Obama's Afghanistan troop drawdown speech has been overwhelmingly negative. But they've been critical for different reasons.

Newly declared candidate Jon Huntsman wants a more rapid drawdown, and Ron Paul said Obama's plan is "too little, too late."

On Obama's right, Tim Pawlenty seemed to go the farthest, saying on Fox News after the speech he was deeply concerned about Obama's plan. "When America goes to war, America needs to win," he said. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, and Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, agreed. "President Obama speaks of winding down our engagement in Afghanistan, but he does not emphasize the need for victory," Santorum said. Cain said Obama's plan "could embolden our enemy and endanger our troops."

Front-runner Mitt Romney took a more middle-of-the road view in a statement after the speech. "We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn't adhere to an arbitrary timetable," he said.

Sarah Palin not going to Sudan

The former Alaska governor was supposed to travel to war-ravaged Sudan next month on a tour with the evangelical leader Franklin Graham and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, but she pulled out this week. Sources close to her told the Washington Post it was because of scheduling conflicts, but it might also have had something to do with security concerns. One U.S. official told the paper that safety would prove to be a challenge. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might be forced to cancel a trip there -- planned to coincide with South Sudan's independence ceremony next month -- for security reasons.

Graham told the Post he hoped Palin could reschedule the trip soon. "She would be a very good person to help draw attention to the plight of the Christians in South Sudan," he said. "We've got George Clooney, we've got some Hollywood-type people. I'm very grateful for what Mr. Clooney has done. But we need everybody we can find."

Palin previously traveled with Graham to Haiti to tour the earthquake devastation there.

Jon Huntsman consults with Republican heavyweights

In an interview with Politico, the former ambassador to China and the newest entrant into the presidential field reveals he has been consulting with some heavy-hitters of the Republican national security establishment. According to Politico, the list includes former National Security Advisor to George H.W. Bush Brent Scowcroft, former Deputy Secretary of State to George W. Bush Richard Armitage, and former director of policy planning for the State Department under W. -- and current head of the Council on Foreign Relations -- Richard Haass. All three are known for their realist views and past criticisms of the Iraq war. The nature of the consultation wasn't characterized, but their foreign-policy philosophies would seem to mesh with that of the candidate, who also said in the interview he would support a fast drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. Huntsman didn't give numbers, but said he would lay out his plan when he gives a "major foreign-policy address" later this summer.



Mexican drug cartels: Where things stand

Nearly five years into an increasingly bloody war against the drug cartels that has killed 35,000 people and shaken the entire population, there is certainly little to cheer about. Nevertheless, the government's strategy of targeting the "kingpins" has had some success. The goal is to nab or kill the big guys and hope their organizations crumble without them. Certainly, every time a powerful drug boss is hauled before cameras in chains, there's a psychological effect on the public.

This week, the government was able to boast of one of its most significant victories so far with the arrest of Jesus Mendez (or "The Monkey"), who headed the powerful La Familia organization, which analysts say is one of the most violent in the country.

President Felipe Calderón tweeted that Mendez's capture is a "great blow by the Federal Police against organized crime."

La Familia, one of six major cartels in Mexico, was known for the almost pseudo-religious devotion of its followers.

"This is a huge deal," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "There's a lot of reason to believe the cartel will splinter at this point."

Selee said that could mean more violence in the short term, as people fight over what remains of the cartel.

Here's where things stand with some of the other major drug kingpins.

Arrested/ Killed:

Nazario Moreno, also known as "The Craziest one."

Killed in a shoot out with police last December.

The founder of La Familia. His death splintered the group. With Mendez's arrest this week, the cartel is all but finished, analysts say. "The cartel was basically run by two guys, and they have both been taken out," Selee said.

Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel

Killed by police last July.

Coronel was one of three leaders in the Sinaloa cartel, the largest and most powerful cartel in Mexico. He was credited with introducing Meth into the Mexican drug trade. Given the cartel's power and scope, his death didn't have a major impact on its operations, but it was a big boost for Calderón's strategy.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal, also known as "La Barbie"

Arrested in August, 2010. 

La Barbie was an enforcer with the Beltran Leyva Cartel, who rose quickly through the ranks to become one of its leaders. He was born in Texas and was a high school football star. One of the only Mexican Americans to take a leadership role in the cartels, La Barbie was a notorious killer.

"In the cartels, there are businessmen and then there are warriors. La Barbie was a warrior," said Scott Stewart, VP of Tactical Intelligence at Stratfor, a risk analysis and geopolitics website and publisher.

Still at large:

Joaqin Guzman, also known as "El Chapo" or Shorty

Probably the most powerful drug lord in Mexico. He's head of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's largest, which controls most of the territory between El Paso and Juarez and is responsible for almost a quarter of the illegal drugs trafficked into the United States from Mexico. With a net worth of about $1 billion, Forbes Magazine last year named him the 60th most powerful person in the world. According to Stewart, the cartel is at war with its main rival, the Zetas. Other cartels are mainly lining up on one side of the fight or the other.

Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano

El Chapo's main rival and the head of the Zetas Cartel. There were reports over the weekend that he might have been killed in a firefight with another group, the Gulf Cartel, but they have yet to be confirmed. Even if he were dead, analysts say, the Zetas would remain a major force, due to Lazcano's powerful second-in-command. The Zetas were former commandos in the Mexican army who went rogue and became the enforcers for other cartels. Eventually, they formed their own crime syndicate. According to CNN, the U.S. government says it is "the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico."