The big New York Times story on the Afghan War today (3/27/12) focuses on public opinion in the United States, which is now dramatically anti-war: 69 percent think we shouldn’t be there.
An interesting point argument is raised later in the piece, when two sources make the argument that the war wouldn’t be so unpopular if Barack Obama would just do a better job of selling it:
Peter Feaver of Duke University, who has long studied public opinion about war and worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, said that in his view there would be more support for the war if President Obama talked more about it. “He has not expended much political capital in defense of his policy,” Mr. Feaver said. “He doesn’t talk about winning in 2014; he talks about leaving in 2014. In a sense that protects him from an attack from the left, but I would think it has the pernicious effect of softening political support for the existing policy.”
And later we get this from Brookings Institution hawk Michael O’Hanlon:
“I honestly believe if more people understood that there is a strategy and intended sequence of events with an end in sight, they would be tolerant,” Mr. O’Hanlon said. “The overall image of this war is of U.S. troops mired in quicksand and getting blown up and arbitrarily waiting until 2014 to come home. Of course you’d be against it.”
This is a pretty widespread belief in recent press coverage of Afghanistan– that somehow Obama could better explain the Afghan War if he’d just decide to do so. Here’s Liz Marlantes of the Christian Science Monitor (Chris Matthews Show, 3/18/12):
The criticism that you keep hearing from Republicans, and I think there’s some validity to this, is that the president also didn’t really spend any political capital selling this mission to the public. I’m not sure the public really understands what the mission is there anymore. Once bin Laden was dead, I think a lot of Americans feel like, “OK, we’ve solved our main problem over there.” In terms of our goals there, it keeps getting defined down. We’re not going to, you know, build a perfect democracy there anymore. And so I think people are thinking, “Well, why are we even there anymore?”
The Washington Post editorial page (3/20/12):
Mr. Obama must do more to build support in the United States for his policy. The president has given just a handful of speeches on Afghanistan during his first term, and his recent public comments have focused on bringing troops home, rather than completing their mission.
Obama has made broadly responsible decisions on Afghanistan. He bears the private burdens of wartime leadership with dignity as he comforts the families of the fallen. He has a strong national security team, a serious military strategy and measurable successes to highlight. But with a nation in need of rallying, his public voice is weak.
The assumption, of course, is that there is, in fact, an Afghan War “strategy” to defend. And that if Americans really understood what their country was doing there, they would support it.