Growing Number of Americans Oppose Afghan War

By Thomas J. Billitteri, Aug. 20, 2009

As Afghans went to the polls today amid Taliban violence aimed at disrupting the country’s presidential election, a new survey showed that many Americans — particularly members of President Barack Obama’s own Democratic Party — are turning against the war in Afghanistan.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 51 percent of American adults say the war isn’t worth fighting, up six percentage points in a month and 10 points since March. Among Democrats, 70 percent say the war hasn’t been worth the cost, while the same percentage of Republicans says the war is worth fighting.

The poll results have to be bad news for the Obama administration and military commanders, who see the Afghanistan conflict as crucial to defeating the Taliban, preventing al Qaeda from re-establishing itself in Afghanistan and thwarting further destabilization in neighboring nuclear-armed Pakistan, where Islamist extremists have sown havoc from their mountain redoubts near the Afghan border.

As I noted in our August 7 report, “Afghanistan Dilemma,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other officials are well aware of public impatience with the war, and they have said they have perhaps a year to show progress in bringing the Taliban to heel and restoring a semblance of order to the country. But the public’s weariness with the war, which began nearly eight years ago in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, has surfaced far sooner than they must have hoped. It’s been only five months since Obama announced a new strategy for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and even less time since Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, a respected counterinsurgency expert, took over as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in the country.

No doubt the surge of Taliban carnage and rising American casualties leading up to this week’s elections have turned more and more Americans against the war. The opinion poll was conducted late last week and early this week as news of car bombings and other violence hit TV screens and the Internet. What’s more, many Democrats believe the Obama administration should be focusing its attention and budget on domestic issues like health care and global warming, and they fear a long war in Afghanistan will drain both money from the federal budget and political capital from the Democratic Party.

Military officials say the stakes in Afghanistan are enormously high, especially because a defeat there would, they say, embolden extremists in Pakistan and possibly allow them to get their hands on the country’s nuclear arsenal. But whether the American public—and Congress—will sustain support for the Afghan war remains an open, and important, question.

----Thomas J. Billitteri
Staff Writer
CQ Researcher

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