The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


The Pollster

With Afghanistan Troop Decision, Obama Makes His First Major Move without Majority Support

By Jon Cohen
Barack Obama today authorized sending an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, marking his first big move as commander in chief and his first presidential decision without clear majority support.

Most Americans consider winning in Afghanistan essential to success in the broader war against terrorism, but in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, barely more than a third (34 percent) said the number of U.S. military forces in that country should be increased. About as many would opt for a decrease (29 percent) or no change at all (32 percent).

The order may be the biggest political stretch of Obama's young presidency, as other decisions have been more in line with public attitudes.

The new move stands in stark contrast to the popularity of a widely-anticipated plan to reverse the Bush administration's policy on stem cell research, the announced closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and an extension of public health care benefits to uninsured children -- all of which rank highly with the public. At last read, the economic stimulus bill also held majority public support.

And Obama faces an even more unwelcoming public in Afghanistan: Most Afghans oppose more foreign troops in their country. In a recent ABC-BBC-ARD poll of Afghanis, just 18 percent said the U.S. and NATO should up their troop levels and more than twice that number, 44 percent, wanted fewer occupying armies.

But while Afghan's have little appetite for more U.S. and NATO troops in their country and ratings of the U.S. have fallen sharply, most Afghans continue to want a U.S. presence there.

In a December Post-ABC poll, most Americans called the Afghan war worth the fight, unlike the continually negative attitudes about the value of the Iraq war. In that poll, 51 percent said victory in Afghanistan is a key to the war on terrorism.

The schism in public views, then, is a classic divide between ends (winning in Afghanistan) and means (increasing troop levels), with the political results ultimately dependent on military accomplishments. In the December poll, 51 percent called the American military action against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan "not successful," which was one reason about as many said they were pessimistic (47 percent) as optimistic (49 percent) about the situation in that country in 2009.

Posted at 7:21 PM ET on Feb 17, 2009  | Category:  The Pollster
Share This: Technorati talk bubble Technorati | Tag in | Digg This
Previous: Former Attorney General Mukasey Joins Law Firm | Next: For Obama, Stimulus May Have Been the Easy Part

Add 44 to Your Site
Be the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail. This widget is easy to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry on The Trail.
Get This Widget >>


Please email us to report offensive comments.

A call to the White House:

"Michelle! Michelle! I got to Play Commander in Chief Today!!!

I dressed up in a Real Uniform-Although they wouldn't let me wear a Gun! Some made up story about being in a Jet and all! They let Fighter pilots have GUNS!!!

But, back to the exiting part! I got to attack Afghanistan! I sent my Boys over there to break out a big can of Whoop-Ash!

Now I can see where Hugo Chavez gets so much Mojo!

You can Salute me good-bye now! Gotta go!"

Posted by: SAINT---The | February 18, 2009 5:22 PM

There will not be a military solution to the situation in Afghanistan. We will withdraw before the next presidential election and the Taliban will return to Kabul.

Posted by: Casandra1 | February 18, 2009 3:03 PM






Posted by: scrivener50 | February 18, 2009 2:12 PM

You guys at the Post are such hypocrits, along with the Democrats. No one says a word as Obama sends more troops overseas, but if Bush was doing this, we would never hear the end of it. This leftist government in D.C. has single-handedly brought upon us the first true socialist government in our history, and no one at the Post says a thing. What are you guys going to do when this trillion doller stimulus package of Obama's fails to do a thing for the economy? How are you going to excuse that? In 5 to 6 months, we are going to call this the Obama Depression.

Posted by: walterndebby | February 18, 2009 11:07 AM

There is a historical possibility here. Almost distinct possibility if you eleminate the American historical realm of possibility and consider a non-American conquest plan. For those wondering at all of this the answer should come fairly soon. It's an old Roman Trick. Get the national military off to other lands; then race in your Private Military, declare them the legitimate Army and abandon the others on forigen soil which may be inhospitible. Hitler quickly did this too. Notice the Republicans are a pretty good Opposition. Obama recognises this. Soooooo Replace the good guys with your well trained Pit Bulls. This does not bode well for any of us. But there may come a day you will have lost your chance to be a Republican (bad joke)

Posted by: jackolantyrn356 | February 18, 2009 10:43 AM

The Canadians have backed this effort and paid a high price for it. But they're due to leave in 2010.

Perhaps this is why the President will be in Ottowa this week?

Posted by: JohnQuimby | February 18, 2009 1:06 AM

So when will we see Republicans go back to criticizing "nation building"? I'm guessing right after Obama's troop build-up...

Posted by: parkerfl1 | February 17, 2009 9:47 PM

For those of us who have just lived through an Administration so steeped in secrecy to assume that we "really" know what is going on in Afghanistan and "really" know what is required in this moment, is ridiculous.
Think about it beyond philosophical yearnings for no war, think about it beyond practical, sensible, yearnings for no war. We just cannot walk away from that part of the world because the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden and innumerable maniacs are trying to get their hands on Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
It is almost difficult to decide which mess Bush left us is the more dangerous. But, make no mistake, if we walk away from South Asia, our very lives will be in danger.

Posted by: cms1 | February 17, 2009 9:46 PM

With the majority of Afghans, according to the polls cited, opposing more foreign troops in their country, sending more American soldiers there will probably be looked upon as an army of occupation. This has all the making of a mini-Vietnam.

Obama's foreign policies may not result in the changes many people expected. Neo-con thinking seems only marginally less influential in his administration than the Bush-Cheney regime. A slower withdrawal of troops from Iraq may be next.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | February 17, 2009 9:45 PM

Trying to solve political problems by killing people is like trying to cure athletes foot by cutting off your own leg.

War isn't just evil and immoral, its counterproductive and stupid.

Something about uniforms turns smart people into puddles of jelly.

No matter how smart you may be in other things, you're a real idiot at human relations and a lousy salesman for your ideas if the only way you can think of to change people's minds is to blow their brains out.

President Obama is a very, very, smart guy.

He should have put his foot down and said, "lets see if we can come up with another idea besides killing everybody in sight when we have a difference of opinion or philosophy with another group of guys or want to convince another country or group of people to switch leaders"

War isn't just bad for children and other living things.

Its bad for business.

Posted by: svreader | February 17, 2009 8:52 PM

For sure, these troops probably would have preferred being posted to Lackawanna, Detroit, Newark, Houston or, most especially, Pasadena. They're probably not going to accomplish anything in Afghanistan whereas, in the US cities, at least they'd be contributing to the the President's Economic Stimulus Programme.

Posted by: HassanAliAl-Hadoodi | February 17, 2009 8:35 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company