The Public Will Turn Against Afghanistan Escalation

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 06:00


A new poll on Afghanistan is out, the first one to ever ask a direct, three-way question on American troop levels in the country:

ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Jan. 13-16, 2009. N=1,079 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.

"Thinking now about Afghanistan, do you think the number of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan should be increased, decreased, or kept about the same?"

Increased: 34%
Decreased: 29%
About the same: 32%
Unsure: 5%

Over at The Seminal, Jason Rosenbaum argues that the poll shows the public opinion is opposed to the troop escalation in the country. I don't think this is quite right. Instead, it seems to show that public opinion on the matter is pretty soft and generally undecided. Really, the country is almost evenly divided three ways.

This is pretty remarkable, given that both President Obama and Senator John McCain supported Afghanistan escalation during the 2008 Presidential campaign. For that matter, there is no prominent public campaign in favor of Afghanistan withdrawal. As was the case for withdrawal from Iraq in 2003, 2004 and most of 2005, neither the Democratic and Republican leadership supported the idea. And yet, despite no one making the case for withdrawal, the American public already favored it by huge margins in the summer of 2005.

In this environment, it doesn't take Nostradamus to realize that it is only a matter of time before public opinion turns against a large American military presence in Afghanistan. If 34% support for troop escalation in Afghanistan is all that can be mustered despite everyone pushing for it, what starts happening once people actually make the case for withdrawal? For that matter, what starts happening to public opinion on Afghanistan once we begin withdrawing from Iraq? Withdraw once, and the second withdrawal probably becomes a lot easier.

President Obama needs to stay in touch with public opinion on this one, and make sure that the troop increase is temporary and short-lived. Not only is it questionable what we can actually achieve by sending more troops, and not only will it cost a lot of money and blood during a time when we have little to spare, but it could also be very dangerous politically. It should go without saying that presiding over an unpopular war is almost certain political death for any sitting President, as Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and George W. Bush all discovered. Further, Republicans are willing to take anti-war opinions in order to spite Democratic Presidents. For example, in 1995, 29 Republicans voted against the authorization of military force in Bosnia, a majority of the caucus. This time around, spite levels might be even higher among Republican members of Congress, as the recent bailout vote in the House demonstrated.

Public opinion will turn against a large American military presence in Afghanistan. This is not a question of "if," but of "when." It is essential that President Obama stays ahead of this trend. As Steve Clemmons writes, Obama may very well be stumbling into an Afghanistan trap.

Chris Bowers :: The Public Will Turn Against Afghanistan Escalation

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This country and many of the people in it are broke... (0.00 / 0)
They will not take kindly to spending money no one has on a war no one cares about anymore.  911 and both wars belong to history, and Obama needs to put them there.  The current economic crisis is, well, current, personal and more urgent to Americans than the clusterfuck Bush created and left in Iraq and Afghanastan.  

Well. . . (4.00 / 1)
knowing the breadth & depth of knowledge of the general public, I'd like to know how many questioned knew the difference between Iraq, Iran & Afghanistan.

I don't argue with your general thesis, but I always cringe when the public is polled about foreign policy.


I understand your concern, but (4.00 / 1)
in the end, this is the same "public" that will either support or protest the New Escalation, whether they can point to Afghanistan on a world map, or not.

I cringe when I hear this because after years of telling Bush/Cheney that the invasion of Iraq had diverted US attention from the "real" war in Afghanistan, and President O's rhetoric on the issue, the Democrats and the Obama Administration will own this war in a way they will never own the war in Iraq. The nation turned on Bush when he was seen as a "loser" in Iraq, and the unwashed masses will turn on Obama if he starts "losing" the war in Afghanistan.


"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
Second question, same poll. (4.00 / 1)
Why did Amir Abdur Rahman persecute the Qizilbash in 1891-1893?



[ Parent ]
Because they spoke Turkish (4.00 / 1)
and were not Sunni.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
Not that easy (0.00 / 0)

If it was just the question, What about Afghanistan? the solutions might be relatively easy.  Or maybe less complicated.  But it seems to me the question is, What about AfPakistan?  The two are in large tied at the hip making for a truly unholy mess.  Good luck Mr. President.


Fighting in Afghanistan may have made sense (4.00 / 1)
in 2002; maybe with the world outraged by 9/11 then it might have made sense; it makes little sense now; the task is infinitely more massive; what is needed is a radical change in policy and even that will only partly "work"; we just do not have any good choices in  the conventional frame. We should withdraw from Afghanistan and do what we can to promote a  non-Taliban Afghanistan from the outside.

The Analogy (0.00 / 0)
I think the use of Bush's loss of support for Iraq over time and massive difficulties, is not necessarily a good analogy for predicting how things might move with Afghanistan, (and I would add the necessity of seeing it in relationship with Pakistan.)

Iraq -- during the run-up, never generated support greater than about 55%, and that went down below 50 as it emerged that the Bush/Cheney advocacy was based on flawed evidence, and very poor strategy.  The invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 was over 90%, and while it has not been the focus of news and analysis over the years, the need to deal with Talaban/al Qaeda has really never flagged.  My own guess is that once Obama clarifies the mission he will support, he will have a reasonable time to execute it with significant public support.  In particular I expect Richard Holbrooke to play a fairly major role in putting forth a public argument for the reconceptualized mission, and I suspect he will be far more effective than anything or anyone the Bush/Cheney tribe ever deployed.  This doesn't mean there will not be a fall-off in support over time, but I suspect the effort Holbrooke will make in terms of the primacy of diplomacy in the scope of the mission will make this a quite different situation.  

In essence, Obama's Afghanistan/Pakistan team will be Gates, Petraeus, and Clinton/Holbrooke, and I doubt if they will predicate any part of their arguments on bogus and flawed evidence that falls apart on examination.  This in no way guarentees success, but it starts from the center of the US political spectrum, and builds in a realist way out to include a very different base for public support.    


Wrong Poll (0.00 / 0)
The poll I references was a new BBC/Harris poll. I haven't been able to find the actual data yet (I've asked), just the press release:

http://www.tradingmarkets.com/...


Why is Rosenbaum wrong? (0.00 / 0)
If 1/3 of the public supports an escalation, 1/3 supports de-escalation, and 1/3 supports the status quo (aka not escalation), doesn't it follow inexorably that 2/3 of the public is opposed to escalation?  

See your logic (0.00 / 0)
But I don't think the public has a good concept of how many troops we even have in Afghanistan.  I don't really know, actually.

Public opinion on this question is just beginning to take shape, since it hasn't been debated at all since we invaded.


[ Parent ]
So where do you stand Bowers? (0.00 / 0)
No strategy in place, and only a third of Americans support escalation - isn't it time progressive bloggers take a stand against reckless military action?

This isn't an issue you should hold at arm's length.


What is the rationale for continuing the war in Afghanistan? (0.00 / 0)
I must say, I don't understand why it seems a good idea to escalate the US military presence in Afghanistan - what can be gained?


"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


Cementing our gains (0.00 / 0)
If we lose now, the narco-bandits in power will be replaced by slightly more religious narco-bandits who like to holiday in Pakistan.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Not to be mean, but (0.00 / 0)
that's not much of a rationale. It sounds alot like the reasoning given for "staying the course" in Iraq, actually.

I'm starting to think that rationale for staying in Afghanistan is that it is not Iraq and thereby affords those that opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq an opportunity to look like tough guys.



"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
No, I was being snarky (0.00 / 0)
Afghanistan is a shitty place to park an army. It's full of desert, roads that haven't been repaired since Genghis Khan came through and locals who make those guys from Deliverance look like the very soul of hospitality.

Extra force doesn't work in Afghanistan, at least not for more than six months. And the only thing that has a non-zero chance of long term success is massive investment in infrastructure, which I really don't see as being on the cards right now.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog


[ Parent ]
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