Jon Walker mentioned the growing disquiet with the American system of government, which I actually think is a lack of faith in government as it is practiced today. But there was some additional data in that WaPo/ABC News poll. 64% of the public now believes the war in Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting. There’s been a steady deterioration on this question since last year.
Two-to-one opposition for the first time puts public criticism of the war in Afghanistan at the level seen for the war in Iraq. Such views had a devastating impact on George W. Bush, the least popular second-term president in polls since the Truman presidency. And there’s danger ahead; fighting in Afghanistan, now in its winter lull, is expected to intensify come summer.
Indeed, with Gen. David Petraeus set to testify on Capitol Hill this week, a broad and bipartisan 73 percent of Americans say the United States should withdraw a substantial number of its combat forces from Afghanistan this summer. But just 39 percent think it will. (ABC News reported yesterday that field commanders in fact are asking for more troops, and a senior official called a sizable reduction unlikely despite the administration’s July 11 date for a drawdown to begin.)
Petraeus spread the happy talk today on Capitol Hill, talking about progress and trying to head off any calls for withdrawal. He even invoked 9-11, saying we have to “remember why we are there. That’s where 9/11 began — that’s where the plan was made.” But I don’t think he has to worry too much. If 64% oppose the war among the public, among elected members of Congress that number is at least flipped. And I don’t think there’s “danger ahead” when the fighting intensifies in the spring; few news outlets even bother to send a correspondent to Afghanistan anymore. It has become a forgotten war, given other international crises and economic struggles at home.
One Senator has at least embarked upon changing that, however. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has decided to press for a timetable for full withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Gillibrand is calling for passage of the Safe and Responsible Redeployment of United States Combat Forces from Afghanistan Act, which would put Congress’ backing behind the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces beginning on July 1. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and four other senators, would also require Obama to submit a plan to Congress by July 31 for the phased redeployment of U.S. combat forces, including a completion day.
“America cannot afford an endless war in Afghanistan,” Gillibrand said. “After nearly a decade at war, with still no equal commitment from the Karzai government, and after all the lives we’ve sacrificed and the billions we’ve spent on this war, it’s time to start bringing our troops home. It’s time to put the future and security of Afghanistan in the hands of its own leaders, and focus America’s national security on the emerging and more imminent threats from al Qaeda in other regions.”
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, provided exclusively to The Huffington Post, Gillibrand also requests a Strategic Redeployment Agreement to establish a 2014 end date for combat operations, based on the model used for pull-out from Iraq.
This is a pretty long timeline, but it’s a timeline, one that we’re seeing in Iraq as well. There’s going to be some sort of status of forces agreement negotiated between the US and Afghanistan in the coming months, which could establish a permanent US role in the region. So those are essentially the options – another three years of war, or a permanent military presence. Neither is really in line with the wishes of the public.