Sunday, June 27, 2010


A Christian Science Monitor story notes some recent poll numbers on Afghanistan:

...Most Americans agree with Obama that McChrystal had to go, polls show. But they're far less supportive of the conflict itself....

A recent Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters finds that just 41 percent "now believe it is possible for the United States to win the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan." More to the point, a plurality of 48 percent now say ending the war in Afghanistan is a more important goal than winning it.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of those polled by Newsweek disapprove of how Obama is managing the war - a sharp reversal since February when 55 percent supported Obama on Afghanistan and just 27 percent did not....

The same Newsweek poll finds that "46 percent of respondents think America is losing the war in Afghanistan (26 percent say the military is winning). A similar plurality think the US is losing the broader war on terrorism (43 percent vs. 29 percent)..."

The CSM story quotes Peggy Noonan's aseertion, in last Friday's column, that ordinary Americans across the political spectrum might eventually sour on the war. I really don't think that could happen all the way to the right, though I'm not sure it matters:

The left doesn't like this war and will only grow more opposed to it. The center sees that it has gone on longer than Vietnam, and "we've seen that movie before." We're in an economic crisis; can we afford this war? The right is probably going to start to peel off, not Washington policy intellectuals but people on the ground in America. There are many reasons for this. Their sons and nephews have come back from repeat tours full of doubts as to the possibility of victory, "whatever that is," as we all now say. There is the brute political fact that the war is now President Obama's. The blindly partisan will be only too happy to let him stew in it.

It's offensive to me that Noonan assumes all members of military families are part of "the right," but I'll concede that a lot are. And I'll do some generalizing of my own and say that, while the futility of our bad wars has made a certain percentage of pro-military, flag-waving families question whether the sacrifices made by members of their own families were worth it, that doesn't seem to happen in a broad-based way. Supporting our wars, even when they seem futile and your own kids die in them, is part of the larger culture war -- losing faith in the notion that we always fight for right would make you just another sandal-wearing hippie. At most, I expect the most fervently right-wing military families to become embittered because (to paraphrase Rambo) they'll feel we didn't "get to win" in Afghanistan. (And it's only a matter of time before right-wing critics of Obama's Afghanistan policy pull another Vietnam catchphrase out of mothballs, saying that Obama has us fighting in Afghanistan "with one hand tied behind our backs.")

All of which addresses Noonan's point about the "blindly partisan" and their willingness to let Obama "stew in" the war. If she's referring to conservative politicians and bloviators, they don't want him to do that -- they're looking for an opening to attack him from the right.

But in the midst of all this, what would happen if the anti-war movement were holding as many demonstrations as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war and the war's first couple of years?

I think it might really help build a national consensus on the center and left that the war is a colossal waste of time now -- that the jihadists we need to worry about aren't in Afghanistan anyway and that conventional wars aren't our best means of fighting jihadism anyway. This is what the anti-war movement was able to accomplish slowly during the Bush years -- it wasn't possible to stop the war and bring the troops home on his watch, but the political world learned that the center might actually punish you at the polls if you were a hippie-punching hawk, a stance that had previously seemed about as safe as being pro-Mom and apple pie.

Unfortunately, I don't know what the practical results of building an anti-war consnsus would be in this political climate. The anti-Iraq war movement gave us a Democratic Congress and president, and a tardy, too-slow withdrawal from Iraq -- but that's an improvement over the permanent Iraq war we'd have had if Republicans had stayed in power. Electing Democrats got us some of what we wanted.

But there doesn't seem to be a chance in hell that we'll have a president who opposes this war anytime in the foreseeable future -- Obama, even as he talks about withdrawal timetables, will probably extend his own deadlines, fearful of being bashed as a hippie. Any GOP replacement elected in 2012 will be an unswerving hawk.

Or maybe that's too pessimistic. Is there even a slight possibility that we could stiffen Obama's spine and give him the cover of national consent for the notion of declaring the war an exercise in futility and getting the hell out? Or, down the line, could we possibly give, say, President Romney (who'd already have the cover of being a Republican and thus not need to worry about looking like a hippie) the opening to declare victory and go home?

And meanwhile, could we isolate the war lovers, the Palins and Giulianis and Kristols and Gingriches (and, probably, the Cantors and Steeles and Boehners and McConnells)? If we can get centrists on our side, won't that highlight the fact that the folks who claim to be their saviors want us to double down on this?

I don't know how that would play out. As Obama inevitably gets attacked for not being bellicose enough, I fear a lot of voters in the center will start agreeing and wanting him to double down. But I think we just might be able to win that debate. I'd like to see our side try, by putting some bodies in the streets.

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