Friday, December 17, 2010


From a Sheryl Gay Stolberg article in today's New York Times:

Afghanistan ... barely registered on voters' minds during the recent midterm elections. With the war now in its 10th year, Americans have clearly soured on the conflict. Six in 10 say it is "not worth fighting," the Post-ABC News survey found.

That could spell trouble for Mr. Obama next spring and summer, when he will have to flesh out the details of his troop withdrawal plan -- just as his re-election campaign is heating up. Mr. Obama left the specifics unclear on Thursday, saying his plans would be dictated by conditions on the ground. But at some point he will have to lay out a plan and make a clear case for it if he expects Americans -- and lawmakers in his party -- to get behind him.

No, he won't. He won't won't have to make a clear case to the public, no matter what he does. The same goes for his party, for different reasons.

How blind do you have to be not to notice that America just shrugs and resigns itself to whatever goes on if Afghanistan -- at least as long as we're still there? There's no anti-war protest movement. There was no talk of the war on the campaign trail, and no one in the public demanded talk. Most people have just given up. A Republican couldn't win the war and wouldn't withdraw, and now the same thing seems to be true of a Democrat. What's the point of thinking about it? The politicians do whatever they decide to do.

The public really, really does not want to be in Afghanistan anymore. You might not realize that from the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll:

By a 53-to-45 percent margin, Americans approve keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2014 (however, a majority of Democrats and independents disapprove)

That's because the question (PDF) offered an extremely limited range of choices:

President Obama has pledged to start reducing American troop levels in Afghanistan next year, but a recent plan by the U.S. and its NATO allies see some combat troops remaining there until 2014. Do you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove or strongly disapprove of leaving some American troops in Afghanistan until 2014?

A majority approves, but most of those are in the "somewhat" category. ("Strongly disapprove" gets nearly as much support as "somewhat approve.")

But in more open-ended questions, the ABC/Washington Post poll shows utter disgust with the war: 60% of the public thinks it wasn't worth fighting (43% feel this "strongly"), and a whopping 81% want Obama to start pulling out troops in summer 2011 or sooner (54% say that timetable is "about right," 27% want it to start sooner). They understand the need to do this carefully -- approval of the 30,000-troop increase is 50/50 (literally, 48%/48%) -- but they want to start getting the hell out soon.

Yet they seem to have given up. No one fights this war, and no one votes to end it. They won't need convincing if the withdrawal starts on schedule -- but they'll just sigh and shrug if it doesn't.

But if it does, the hawks and wingnuts may raise hell -- for the usual political reasons. They'll want to start painting Obama as "weak." They'll want to make his "weakness" a 2012 campaign issue.

Which is why Democrats in Congress don't need Obama to "make a clear case" for a withdrawal. They're not going to respond to a clear case -- they're going to respond, as usual, to right-wing demagoguery. If the right holds back on this issue, Dems will go along with a withdrawal. If the right fights, Dems will be their usual spineless selves.

And if Obama capitulates and postpones the start of the drawdown, some Dems will fight -- but not enough to make a difference, as usual. (Republicans and Blue Dogs will dominate the debate.)

I know the press wants a rerun of the Vietnam era, with furious debate on an endless quagmire of a war. But the public doesn't have the stomach for that, and the more dovish party doesn't have the guts. So no Pulitzers for you guys on "the war at home" this go-round.

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