Critics of President Bush's invasion of Iraq often complained that the necessary war in Afghanistan was being starved of resources because of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. AmericaInTheWorld has always supported the Iraq war but it is difficult to argue with the contention that the campaign in Afghanistan was neglected. Barack Obama vowed to correct that while a candidate for the White House and has already committed another 21,000 US troops to the country.
He will soon receive another request for more troops from his commander in the field, General Stanley McChrystal, but that request will come at a time of mounting opposition to the campaign among US voters. A recent Washington Post opinion poll found 51% of Americans believing that the war is not worth fighting. Among the President's own Democratic party opposition is even higher, at 70%. Nearly twice as many voters want troop numbers reduced as support extra troops.
All this comes at a terrible time for Obama. The politician who could do no wrong is facing difficulties on multiple fronts. His flagship domestic reform - on healthcare - is unpopular. Earlier today unemployment hit at 26-year high of 9.7%. The budget deficit is exceeding the Obama White House's own forecasts. His net approval rating is down to 11.7%.
But as Rich Lowry of the National Review writes, this is a much friendlier public opinion background than that which faced George W Bush in 2006 when he took the hugely unpopular and lonely decision to increase American troop numbers in Iraq. The key need, Lowry reminds Obama, is clear resolve. This is not a time for "Rumsfeldian half-measures". He continues:
"The war is far from lost. Kabul is relatively safe, certainly compared with the hellish extremity of Baghdad in 2006. The areas that are in the worst shape, in the south, are those in which we have had the fewest forces. The population doesn’t want a reprise of Taliban rule. If we could recover in an Iraq that had descended to Dante’s seventh circle, Afghanistan is salvageable with enough resources and time."
Washington Post columnist and former Bush speechwriter Mike Gerson lists the steps to success identified by General David Petraeus:
- Expanding the Afghan army
- Partnering American troops with Afghan forces
- Better protecting population centers
- Coordinating military advances with civilian development efforts
- Strengthening local governance and
- Mastering the endless intricacies of a tribal culture.
But there are signs that the Right is unhappy. Lowry and Gerson may remain the hawks' corner but veteran commentator George Will has called for the war to be fought "offshore" with "drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units."
Whether Obama chooses a surge, "Rumsfeldian half-measures" or Will's "offshore" strikes, one thing is clear. Afghanistan is now Obama's war.