Washington (CNN) – Republicans who are questioning whether it is wise to continue the U.S. mission in Afghanistan are coming under criticism from some conservative foreign policy experts.
Soon-to-be presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who sources have said will formally announce his campaign next Tuesday, is one of the contenders most strongly questioning the mission.
Huntsman, during an interview last week with CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley that aired on "State of the Union," raised the question of whether U.S. forces can remain until 2014 or beyond. "I would argue you can if you're willing to pay another quarter of a trillion dollars to do so. But if it isn't in our direct national security interest and if there isn't a logical exit strategy and if we don't know what the cost is going to be in terms of money and human lives, then I think you have to say it's probably time we reevaluate this if we can't make that strong argument with the American people."
In a separate interview just published in Esquire Magazine, Huntsman said remaining engaged in Afghanistan does not seem to be key to America's national security.
"It's a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it's now or years from now, we'll have an incendiary situation...Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don't think that serves our strategic interests," Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China, told Esquire. In excerpts released of its upcoming story, Huntsman said if the U.S. can't "define a winning strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we're wasting our money, and we're wasting our strategic resources."
Huntsman told CNN the American people want to be out of the country "as quickly as we can get it done." He said some troops should be left but not in the current range of approximately 100,000.
The Obama Administration is expected to decide soon how many troops sent during the surge will leave the country. An overwhelming majority of Americans recently polled said they support pulling out some or all U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney surprised some analysts with his comments Monday night at the CNN-WMUR-New Hampshire Union debate when he also questioned the Afghanistan mission.
"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 government over in the way the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban," he said. "Our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban."
Danielle Pletka, an expert with the American Enterprise Institute, told CNN she thinks these candidates pushing for withdrawal are wrong. "I think these candidates have their fingers in the wind and suspect Americans don't support the war. Instead of showing leadership they decide to ride the wave."
She said the U.S. still has a vital national security interest in the country to prevent it from again being used as a safe haven for terrorists.
If the U.S. does pull out "it will hurt us in the sense of creating operational space to have al Qaeda plan attacks."
Pletka said some of the growing opposition is due to the influence of Tea Party activists on the Republican Party because they are seen as more hostile to foreign operations and also emphasize the need to cut the growing spending by the government, including on national security and also because President Obama hasn't done a consistent job of explaining why the continuing war is important to the U.S. security.
Asked during the forum whether the price tag should be considered in making military decisions, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said "we need to think fundamentally about reassessing our entire strategy in the region. I think that we should say to the generals we would like to figure out to get out as rapid as possible with the safety of the troops involved. And we had better find new and very different strategies because this is too big a problem for us to deal with the American ground forces in direct combat.
According to the Des Moines Register, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty told GOP activists in May the U.S. should try to decrease the number of American troops there within the next two years if conditions are right.
A recent CNN-Opinion Research Poll showed 27 percent of Americans said Afghanistan was extremely important in considering who to vote for President – ranking far below other issues.
In the same survey 36 percent said they favor the U.S. war in Afghanistan, down six points in one month, while 62 percent opposed it, 10 points higher than in May.
Forty seven percent said the U.S. is winning there, which is far higher than last year.
During the CNN debate many of the candidates voiced opposition to the U.S. involvement in the NATO operation in Libya.
Follow Kevin Bohn on Twitter @KevinBohnCNN.