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Afghan war poll triggers Obama political alarms

August 19, 2009 |  6:08 pm

Democrat president Barack Obama speaks to the VFW in Phoenix 8-17-09

As President Obama concludes weeks of intense -- and increasingly desperate -- salesmanship on his keystone and embattled healthcare reform plans, a discouraging alarm arrived today that he may soon have to devote his selling skills toward a less interesting but more dangerous area of concern for him:

The war in Afghanistan.

Secure parts of that country vote in a presidential election Thursday. And quietly coming through the bureaucratic defense pipeline is a request for even more U.S. troops, on top of the compromise 17,000 additional Obama approved last winter.

Current U.S. troop strength there is 62,000, scheduled to jump to 68,000 in coming weeks.

But today a new Washington Post/ABC News poll reveals that a majority of Americans now....

...believe that historically troubled land is not worth fighting for -- and only 24% back a troop increase. While 45% say the American troop commitment there should actually be reduced.

This indicates that even during a normally carefree summer vacation period (soon to involve even the president and family), the American public is apparently not buying Obama's Afghan argument, made as recently as his Monday speech to a VFW convention in Phoenix that echoed Pres. George W. Bush's argument for involvement in Iraq. (Full text here.)

American War dead returning home

Obama said:

There will be more difficult days ahead. The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight, and we won't defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.

Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a -- this is fundamental to the defense of our people.

Politically, Obama is entering a treacherous spot as autumn approaches.

During his long, expensive presidential campaign, the then-freshman senator was an ardent anti- (Iraq) war candidate who appealed to the left. The Illinois Democrat argued strongly against Bush's Iraq troop surge, saying it was doomed to failure and would surely increase sectarian violence.

Now that the Republican's national security strategy has succeeded in Iraq, freeing U.S. troops for deployment elsewhere, the Democrat is in the rather awkward position of likely arguing for the second troop surge of his own young administration.

Less noticed during the campaign was Obama's oft-stated belief that the real war on terror was in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of adjacent Pakistan, which he promised to pursue actively.

Support for fighting there has not been strong in the last couple of years but is decreasing now as American casualties increase along with troop strength and their anti-insurgent activities. According to the Post poll of 1,001 adults between Aug. 13-17 (error margin +/- 3%),  adults (51%) now say the war is not worth fighting.

That's up six points in just the last month and four points above the previous opposition high.

Only 47% say the war is worth it, while strong opponents outnumber strong proponents, 41-31.

Sixty percent of all Americans still approve of Obama's war-handling, with special approval coming from Republicans who strongly support the war (70%) and conservatives (58%).

What's alarming for the liberal president, who recently approved an overall increase in the size of the Army, is that his bipartisan support on the war is quickly melting away. But the losses are mainly coming from among his own party faithful -- 70% of Democrats now say Afghanistan isn't worth it.

Worse, less than 20% of Democrats favor sending more American troops.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Alex Brandon / Associated Press (Obama speaking Monday); Associated Press.

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