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Support for Afghan War Craters, Obama on Notice

The NY Times reports that Americans are quickly souring on the war in Afghanistan:

After a series of violent episodes and setbacks, support for the war in Afghanistan has dropped sharply among both Republicans and Democrats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The survey found that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan. Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, more than a decade old.

This isn’t surprising. If the commander in chief doesn’t defend the war and make a case for his chosen strategy, the American public has little else to go on but the most garish of headlines. Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good war” that this administration wasn’t going to neglect as — it charged — the Bush administration had done. Yet today, the only thing coming from the Obama administration on the subject is radio silence.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the president has a duty to talk about the war — to explain to the American people why we are fighting, what we hope to accomplish, and why there is reason to believe that we can succeed. If the chosen strategy has run into obstacles, that is what war is about. Presidents are not infallible and war fighting involves flexibility and realism as well as courage and commitment. But the President seems to be conducting his administration as if the war weren’t happening.  It is something to be swept under the rug, ignored, deprecated — and, on the current course, lost.

If the President can’t or won’t explain the war and defend his strategy, withdrawal, and not in the best of circumstances, becomes inevitable. And considering that this war has undeniably become his war — chosen by this president as a “war of necessity” that he pledged in his campaign to win, and went on to fight with his deliberately designed, hand-crafted strategy — such a turn of events will likely not help his campaign for re-election, much less his place in history.

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  • BillH

    Unlike green plants, organizational rot (corporate, community, government…) always seems to start at the top, be it active corruption, passive neglect, or plain incompetence. I would like to hear of a case where that hasn’t been the case.

  • MST

    While the setbacks and difficulties of the formerly-good-war may be grating on Americans’s nerves, I think the real nail in the coffin is Hamid Karzai’s going off the rails. If he thinks he can run Afghanistan without American GIs there, great, he can have the [darned] place and good riddance. I give it no more than six weeks after the last dogface shakes the Karachi dust off his boots before Karzai is on the noose end of a short rope.

  • vanderleun

    “If the President can’t or won’t explain the war…”

    This president is neither confused nor shy about this war. No indeed. This president is bored by his war.

  • ottovbvs

    Wake up Mr Mead. Obama want’s out of there ASAP and always has. But guess what democracies aren’t particularly good at understanding or practising strategic thinking. In the summer of 2008 the military situation was deteriorating rapidly which is why GWB doubled the force size with the dispatch of 35-40,000 troops. This didn’t stabilise the situation so McChrystal backed by Petraeus and the entire military and foreign policy establishment asked for more reinforcements and received another 30,000. Since then the situation has essentially stabilized into a stalemate. We have no mission in Afghanistan. There only remains for us to quit the place in good order and in a way that doesn’t LOOK like a dash for exits. While the public has soured on the war the numbers in this poll indicate the country wants an orderly exit. And that’s what they are going to get. This is another debacle left over from the Bush era (I’m sure Mead cheered it all the way) that has to be liquidated in a way that doesn’t leave us looking like total [jerks] and this is about the best we can hope for.

  • George

    My mind has changed; I want our soldiers out of a situation where they are being assassinated on an almost daily basis by their “allies.”

    Hand the Afghans off to the tender mercies of the Chinese, I say. They’ll ensure there are no AQ safe harbors.

  • KIA

    ottovbvs says:
    March 27, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Great comment. Looking good is important. If that gets more killed, well thems the breaks…

  • JasonRabbit75

    The president has said in his 2012 SOTU address that his strategy is to withdraw US troops and transition to Afghan leadership. I’m not sure how much clearer you want him to be.

  • Corlyss

    We haven’t fought a war like we mean what we say about its importance since WW2. I’m all for America protecting its interests, and I’ll back any war where they are at jeopardy. But around 1967 I got real tired of wars where headsheds expend a lot of rhetoric on a conflict but fight it only long enough and intensely enough to get a lot fine young American warriors killed and then decide well, maybe it wasn’t important enough to get voted out of office over. Those kinds of conflicts I will oppose with my dying breath. The people who make the decision to engage in them remind me of the late Christopher Hitchens’ characterization of casuists.

  • Shoey

    when we went into Afghan we were defending ourselves, but that’s not what we’re doing anymore, we’re just there now, no ryhme, no reason just there and our young people are dying for nothing.

  • Kris

    “Support for Afghan War Craters”

    I support them too; they’re the best thing next to travelling to the Moon!

    More seriously, I seem to recall someone talking about Obama’s seeming affinity for the sour spot.

    KIA@6: Great comment. War is solely about numbers. The nature of our exit will not have any consequences.

  • Wrangler

    Professor Mead:
    I think your premises are (sorry, should be singular) correct, “If the President can’t or won’t explain the war and defend his strategy, withdrawal, and not in the best of circumstances, becomes inevitable.” We’ve heard nothing about his plans (except for after the elections with the Russians) for anything he wants to do, foreign or domestic. Mutually exclusive energy ideas and fabrications about our present status and reserves……One could continue. That’s the pity.

  • JimAZ

    Isn’t it clear to all by now that this President doesn’t care a Skittle about the security of our country. He thinks we are too strong and wishes to diminish our power relative to other nation-states and global entities (i.e. NATO and the UN). His only consideration in regard to the Afghan war is how it will play at election time, period. He wants to be in power to TRANSFORM America from the unique country we have been since the founding to something more egalitarian and collectivistic. He cares not about the content of a given individual’s character, but only about his (or her of course!!) race, class, and gender. Things many of the rest of us are attentive to are not necessarily things that he is attentive to.

  • Joe H.

    The Afghani war may be fruitless in the long term, given the fact that the “country” (I use that term loosely) is rife with both corruption and barbarism. That said, it’s still important (as it always is) to step back and continually assess our presence there in broader strategic terms. Since Afghanistan touches China at one remote border point, there’s an opportunity for the Chinese to insert themselves into the Middle East, should they find a vacuum to fill. The price they would pay for such an adventuresome expedition would undoubtedly be very high, but perhaps that’s a burden they may be willing to shoulder in some form or another.

    Also, Iran is at the top of our list of strategic worries now, and being able to base forces in adjacent countries is something of potentially great value, in spite of the restrictions that may be placed on us while we’re “in theatre”. We might or might not be able to launch operations from Afghanistan (and Iraq, had we had the good sense to maintain some presence there), but the opportunity is one that shouldn’t be given up easily based on what we’re facing. If we were to be in a position of having significant assets in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it would probably help us (even if we loose a few more drones)when crunch time really arrives concerning Iran.

  • Randall Smith

    War Craters? I thought you meant bomb craters. You must have meant to use a war metaphor to describe this.

  • Ritchie The Riveter

    The way you win wars is through convincing resolve … you must convince the enemy that you will NOT ALLOW THEM TO PREVAIL. Mr. Reagan achieved that, without firing a shot, during the Cold War.

    The problem is, our aversion to being tarred with the “imperialist” brush has led our political leadership away from consistently exhibiting that resolve in any conflict — hot or cold — since then.

    We keep going into battle with one eye looking for the exits … and our enemy sees that, expects that, and even tailors their actions to leverage our media to encourage that.

    OTOH, when we have surprised them … like we did in al-Anbar, when we started basing troops in combat outposts and instituted the clear-hold-build strategy that was expanded theater-wide in the Surge … we have prevailed.

    We simply leave now, and the Taliban will be right back in there with doors wide open for the next al Quada … and our lack of resolve will have kept the door open for return trips, and more mothers and young wives getting those folded colors way too early, until we fill that lack.

    Some have suggested we let China handle this … you should have a problem with that, if you truly value the lives of the innocent. China places less value on them, than we do. Makes warfare easier for them than for us, but not so on the people caught in the crossfire.

    And it is not enough just to “win” … for victory and peace to be sustainable, the Afghans MUST institute a sustainable form of rights-respecting governance, even if they must be compelled by us to do so. They do not have an option in this, if we and they want to avoid the need for us to return.

    It is time for them to grow up. Without freedom, and respect for … and protection of … it by those who govern, peace is just an illusion.

  • Irish Mike

    While I enthusiastically supported the surge in Iraq, I boast of no preference in the Afghan strategy, nor of any knowledge superior to the Britons and Russians who had fought there before.

    Had Mr. Obama withdrawn in 2009 or 2010, or shifted to the Biden strategy of random incursions to root out terrorists, or (as he ultimately decided) to reprise the surge, I would have supported the exercise of his decision as Commander-in-Chief. But as the architect of the strategy, Mr. Obama could no longer simply vote “present”, nor lay blame on the “mess (he) inherited”.

    But it is truly astonishing that Mr. Obama has spent more time commenting on the tragic loss of one black teenager in Sanford Florida than he has on the conflict that has cost so many lives in Afghanistan in support of a policy for which he bears 100% responsibility.

    Dare I ask: if Mr. Obama had any sons, would they look like American GI’s?

  • Mike

    Americans supported our original mission in Afghanistan: to kill terrorists.

    Now that mission has changed to supporting the corrupt Karzai government.

    If the mission does not support America’s selfish interests, the people will not support the war.

    The people don’t care if Afghanis want to kill each other. In fact, I wish them success in that endeavor.

  • BillH

    ottovbvs @4: “…democracies aren’t particularly good at understanding or practising strategic thinking….” Their political leaders sure as [expletive preemptively deleted] aren’t (see Korea, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq), but you better believe their military is (see World War II, 6-day war, Falklands….).

  • Dave F

    Irish Mike:
    Dare I ask: if Mr. Obama had any sons, would they look like American GI’s?
    Mike, you’ve managed to, in one statement, insult all American GIs, and one would assume Mr. Obama.

  • MDC

    @Dave F: Having spent no small amount of time in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last eight years, in uniform and out, I’m not at all insulted by the question Mike asked. If the President is insulted, that’s his problem… I’ve NEVER felt that there was any sense of identification with those fighting the war by this President. There are 17-year olds in training right now, that raised their right hand and had their parents sign the papers with no illusions or doubts about the odds of them coming over here (I’m in Afghanistan right now). It’s a reasonable question, a question that deserves an answer (and silence is an answer).

  • Irish Mike

    My point was simply that Mr. Obama went out of his way to personally identify with the victim of a tragic incident, stating that “all of us need to do some soul searching to figure out exactly how this happened”.

    Yet he has failed to (or refuses to) go to any length to explain or justify the Afghan mission, which I believe was the point of Prof. Mead’s essay.

    Mr. Obama demands that all of “us” do some “soul searching” on an incident for which the facts are not fully known, but he does not share facts on an issue for which he is singularly responsible.

  • Warlord

    It’s time to BUGOUT! Let them swim or sink on their own. When a soldier feels unsure about
    being shot from behind by an ally,it’s time to
    reappraise the battle field.

  • richard40

    Support for afganistan was always weak on the left, even with Obama being the commander in chief. The real change though is once it became apparent that Obama had no plan or desire to actually win in afganistan, support collapsed on the right as well.

  • teapartydoc

    “What do I want? I want respect. Now send the Seventh Fleet to Morocco and get me some respect.”

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