An unpopular war of his own

During his campaign for president, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's immigration plan has serious problems Hearing for Twitter hack suspect Zoom-bombed by porn, rap music Read: Sally Yates testimony MORE argued that the United States should step up the war in Afghanistan, even as it winds down the war in Iraq.

“We have seen Afghanistan worsen, deteriorate; we need more troops there,” Obama said last September in his first debate with John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Mark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Prominent conservatives question Jerry Falwell Jr. vacation photo MORE. “We don’t have enough troops to deal with Afghanistan because we still have more troops in Iraq than we did before the surge.”

By going into Iraq, Obama charged, the Bush administration had “taken its eye off the ball” — that is, it ignored the real key front in the war on terror, Afghanistan.


Well, now Obama is president, and it’s time to make good on his pledge. Last week, The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, even though the administration “does not anticipate that the Iraq-like ‘surge’ of forces will significantly change the direction of a conflict that has steadily deteriorated over the past seven years.”

An additional 30,000 troops would very nearly double the number of American forces there now. It would be nice to think they could make a significant difference. If they can’t, why send them?

For the moment, the Post reported, Obama hopes the presence of more troops will buy him time to come up with a new Afghanistan strategy.

Obama will have a lot of decisions to make about how American forces will prosecute the war in the months, and perhaps years, to come. But in addition to a new strategy, Obama will need something else: more public support.

Right now, despite all the campaign talk about Afghanistan, he doesn’t have very much.

In a poll last week, The New York Times asked respondents whether the U.S. should increase the number of its troops in Afghanistan, keep the number of troops the same, or reduce the number of troops.


Thirty-four percent said the U.S. should send more troops. Twenty-eight percent said keep the number the same, and 26 percent said reduce the number. (Twelve percent didn’t know, which is an entirely reasonable answer.)

Add it up, and that’s 54 percent in favor of keeping the same or a smaller number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, versus 34 percent in favor of sending more.

Then the Times asked if those who support more troops would still do so if it would mean “substantially more U.S. casualties.” When the question was put that way, just 25 percent supported sending more troops.

Does anyone believe that an escalated war in Afghanistan — a war that takes the fight to al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists wherever they may be hiding — will not involve substantially more U.S. casualties?

And where does Afghanistan fit among Americans’ priorities? When the poll asked what is the “single most important thing” people would like to see Obama accomplish in the next four years, just 1 percent answered Afghanistan.

Now, maybe a lot of Americans view Afghanistan as a top priority, even though they don’t view it as the top priority. But the fact is, in this poll at least, just 25 percent say they support sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Now, you don’t make war policy according to poll results. But public opinion matters in any war. If Obama follows through on his pledge to escalate the war in Afghanistan, he might find that, just months into office, he is a president with an unpopular war of his own.