Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

The Results Are In….Americans Continue to Support the War

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on October 16, 2009


Here are the tentative results from this week’s very-important survey:

Question 1:  Do you support America’s Role in Afghanistan?

Yes: 53%    No: 47%

Question 2:  Is defeating the Taliban a priority in the War on Terrorism?

Yes: 57%    No:  43%

Question 3:  What course would best improve the mission in Afghanistan?

Focus on counterinsurgency:  59%      Focus on counterterrorism:  41%

Question 4:  What should the White House do with respect to troop levels?

Increase:  14%     Decrease:  31%     Stay the same:   23%    Withdraw:  31%

This bears the question, is this small poll and accurate reflection of the country’s mindset towards Afghanistan?  Look below for the answer.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll, all of the “hoop-la” concerning Afghanistan’s deteriorating situation is nonexistent to a vast majority of Americans.  Conducted this past week by Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, the newly found survey shows a tremendous amount of American resolve towards the war in Afghanistan; just as the Taliban is gaining strength in the region over U.S. and NATO forces.

Below is a short summary of the findings that are worth discussing:

1)      65 percent of U.S. voters “are willing to have American soldiers ‘fight and possibly die’ to eliminate the threat of terrorists operating in Afghanistan.  28 percent said otherwise

2)      30 percent polled supported an enhanced U.S. troop presence within Afghanistan for “as long as it takes.”  28 percent thought that an American withdrawal would be the best option, whereas 21 percent wanted U.S. troops to depart from the “Af-Pak” region in 1-2 years.

3)      38 percent of those polled fully endorsed rising troop levels in Afghanistan to confront the growing Taliban insurgency.  28 percent hoped that the United States would decrease troop levels.

Contrary to mainstream accounts of waning public opinion for the war in Afghanistan, some of the country’s most respected research institutions are arriving at an opposite conclusion: the American populace is willing to put up with a sustained U.S. campaign against Al’Qaeda militants for at least the next five years.

While the information presented is only the result of a single political survey among thousands across the nation, I do have some thoughts regarding these statistics.

First and foremost, the media’s negative portrayal of the war is grossly fabricated.  Of course, when comparing the current levels of public support with rates immediately after the September 11 attacks, the American population seems fed up with Afghanistan (nine years of warfare tends to produce this type of side-effect).  Yet, when placing the October 2009 figures into perspective, the constant claims of a war-weary citizenry emanated by the mainstream media are relatively ambiguous.

This false perception has a dramatic effect on the entire U.S.-led mission.  On one hand, commanders and soldiers on the ground have been operating with the assumption that the country they are fighting for is divided over the war-effort.  To some, this may not be important.  To policymakers in Washington, however, the public’s outlook makes or breaks the success of the campaign.

Consider Vietnam and Iraq as examples.  In both conflicts, the tactics pursued by the U.S. Military were heavily influenced by domestic politics.  The Johnson, Nixon, and Bush administrations were heavily attuned to the millions upon millions of Americans marching down the streets of the nation’s largest cities, collectively voicing their outrage over the incompetence of the United States Government.  Recognizing that Americans were losing patience with both wars, the sound judgment of Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Bush became clouded by a certain state of paranoia, second-guessing, and outright mismanagement.  The result was a devastating loss of lives on the ground and billions of taxpayer dollars wasted.

Minus electoral concerns, perhaps the White House would have been able to re-evaluate strategy in a less hostile environment, without the consistent strain and internal pressure generated through a disenfranchised constituency.  If there is one universal ideal within democratic governance, it is the fact that re-election often gets in the way of a clear, unified, and rational decision-making process.

This poll is fundamentally confirming the same universal principle.  Americans understand the dangers associated with terrorism, rightly concluding that Al’Qaeda and its like-minded proxies around the world continue to pose a significant threat to their safety and security.  Likewise, most Americans understand that ill-fated costs are usually pretexts for a more peaceful, prosperous and secure world.

While both assertions are certainly worth noting, the most valuable inference of the survey is the fact that a vast majority of the country is squarely behind their Commander-in-Chief.  For a young leader still learning the ropes, confronted with two costly wars and a dragging economy, a confident constituency is precisely what President Obama needs to keep himself on the right track.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from AFP contributed to this blog.


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