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While Obama focused on tax cuts, anti-Afghan war sentiment grows to 60% in bloodiest year yet

December 17, 2010 |  6:28 am

US troops fire mortar at night in Afghanistan

It's perhaps a measure of the somber times in America at the end of the 21st century's first decade that with congressional passage, both political sides today are largely celebrating simply keeping the unemployment benefits and tax cuts that they already had. Wow, lucky us. We didn't get hammered.

President Obama, of course, is counting on the new stimulus measures finally spurring the economy to do what he and Joe promised the first stimulus spending bill would for sure do nearly two years ago: Not only end the recession, but get the recovery going strongly. We'll see.

Meanwhile, two new polls that augur ill for Obama II. It's still very early, of course -- 690 days from right now Americans will be voting for the next president. If the economy recovers strongly and that awful 9.8% national unemployment rate drops significantly, Obama can make a game case for more time.

Much also depends on his final Republican opponent. A no-nonsense plain old....

....efficient executive with a Nike-like slogan -- Just Do It -- would be formidable, especially if he or she is attractively dull. Evidenced by this fall's campaign ineffectiveness of Obama and Biden compared to their 2008 performance, Americans seem pretty much charisma-ed out at the moment.

A new Fox News-Opinion Dynamics Poll out Thursday indicates they've soured more on the incumbent. Obama's approval-disapproval ratings are steadily sad -- 40%-51%, same as earlier this month and the lowest since inauguration.

"Your best guess, as of today do you think Barack Obama will be reelected president in 2012 or not?"

Mid-December 2010 Overall: 29% Yes, 64% No.

Mid-December 2009 Overall: 44% Yes, 46% No.

Tellingly, among Obama's core Democrats, those who believe he'll be reelected fell from 71% a year ago to a minority, 49%, now. Those Democrats who say he won't be reelected increased from 19% to 42%.

Among independents, a crucial part of the Democrat's winning 2008 coalition, those who think he'll be reelected fell from 46% to 31%. Those who predict he won't jumped from 44% to 63%.

While much attention has focused on the economy, also lurking out there is an increasingly unpopular overseas war, an issue that torpedoed the anticipated second elected terms of Democrats Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson. Both of those aborted reelection ambitions resulted in eight ensuing years of Republican presidents, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon-Gerald Ford.Army Sgt William Bee duck

Obama's in an awkward position on war. He argued strenuously against the fighting and troop surge in Iraq, now winding down successfully.

He maintained that Afghanistan was the good war, the one the nation should be focused on against terrorists and denying them sanctuary to plot further 9/11 attacks.

One year ago this month Obama ordered his own second troop surge, investing about 100,000 troops there.

Thursday, his administration released an annual security review (presidential transcript and summary here). In brief, Special Forces and the additional troops have halted the Taliban in some places, pushed it back in others, all fragile gains. A withdrawal of unspecified size will begin July 1, but officials indicate 2014 is a more realistic major drawdown date.

No one likes to lose. But less noticed historically is that American public opinion has viewed not winning as equally bad. Tough to show progress in a war of insurgency that washes all over. The Afghan conflict has become about the nation's longest war, and 2010 has been its deadliest year.

With two weeks left in 2010, 489 Americans have died in Afghanistan, up 54%, from 317 in all of 2009. Total U.S. fatalities since 2001: 1,436. Plus another 828 Britons, Canadians and others.

This week, an ABC News/Washington Post Poll finds a record-high 6 out of 10  Americans have decided the Afghan war has not been worth it. That's up from 53% in July. Those who see the value has fallen to 34%, a new low and down 9 points.

Only 45% now approve of Obama's handling of that war, 46% disapprove. That's much better than President George W. Bush's average disapproval of 63% in handling the Iraq war.

The higher disapproval for Bush is likely tied to his not promising a withdrawal date during the height of combat, making the public's perception in coming months of the start and progress of an Afghan withdrawal crucial for Obama's reelection prospects the following year.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Dima Gavrysh / Associated Press; Goran Tomasevic / Reuters (Sgt. William Bee ducks enemy fire in Afghanistan).

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