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First Command: Public Views on Troop Increase

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.

By Jon Cohen  |  February 17, 2009; 7:23 PM ET
Categories:  Post Polls  
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"Most Americans consider winning in Afghanistan essential to success in the broader war against terrorism,..."

Well, then, most Americans are poorly informed about the lessons of history in that part of the world.

Posted by: Bartolo1 | February 18, 2009 7:27 AM | Report abuse

Global terrorist network appears still resilient and ready to take momentum to carry out any dirty wars against innocent peoples and nations. The World should convey thanks to American army and other participants who try to undermine terrorists' attempt to undo the great value of freedom against outside World.
We profoundly feel that how hard and sacrificial it takes just to keep freedom for our future generation to come. There are so many bad ones out there.
It is our belief that Obama will take effective and ultimate decision as for dealing his assignment of Afghanistan as commendor in chief. The World looks on and only judges after what happens.

Posted by: sanghwan_ji | February 18, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse

Atten: Editor. Re: Behind the Numbers, dated 02-23-'09.
Sending additional troops to Afganistan is a waste of human lives, and a waste of Government money. There is no way that this country is going to convince those native people in Afganistan to live in a democratic fashion, and forsake their own Gods and life style. There is no way we can afford to pay for the huge costs of supporting an army that far from home.We can begin balancing our National budget
by bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghaniston at once, in orderly fashion.
The money we save can be more wisely spent on wind power and natural gas to help us free our dependence on middle East oil.
Cyrano has said it's so, because it is!

Posted by: Cyrano | February 23, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

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