Love the Afghanistan War in Public at Your Peril
One of the gems buried in Michael Hastings' now ubiquitous Rolling Stone article is a senior adviser to General McChrystal thanking his lucky stars for public ignorance of the state of the war:
Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn't begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. "If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular," a senior adviser to McChrystal says.
Well, mission accomplished, gentlemen. Your little frat party managed to get everyone's attention and, combined with a never-ending stream of gruesome milestones, it caused the bottom to drop out of public support for the Afghanistan War. According to the newest polling from Newsweek:
- Only 37 percent of those surveyed approve of the way President Obama is handling the war. 53 percent disapprove. That's a major reversal from prior results that showed support/opposition solidly in the president's favor by a 55/27 margin.
- Only 26 percent of those surveyed believe we're winning in Afghanistan. 46 percent believe we're losing.
- This crystallizing opposition isn't due to disagreement with the way President Obama handled the McChrystal/Rolling Stone flap, either. Most Americans agreed with his decision to dismiss the general by a 50/35 margin.
McChrystal's statements in the Rolling Stone piece probably weren't enough to cause his ouster on their own, but as the latest in a series of insults and missteps, they were the straw that broke the camel's back. Similarly, the McChrystal flap probably wasn't enough to turn Americans against the war, but as a tawdry new development at the end of a string of gruesome events transpiring on the periphery of the national consciousness, the episode was enough to cause the electorate to push their chair back from the kitchen table and stomp over to see just what the hell you kids are doing in here that's making all that racket?!
Mommy and Daddy obviously didn't like what they saw:
- The thousandth U.S. death of the war;
- The trillionth dollar spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars;
- That the war had surpassed Vietnam as the longest war in U.S. history, by some counts;
- That the pivotal campaigns in the counterinsurgency strategy were ridiculously bogged down; and
- That June 2010 had already become the deadliest month of the war.
Pentagon officials are now running around trying on some of their most Orwellian rhetoric to date (No! Really! We're not bogged down!) trying to sooth Congress and the extraordinarily cranky electorate, but it's too late. The tanks are rolling into Baghdad, despite Bob's insistence to the contrary.
For their part, the hawks in Congress are dangerously misreading the tea leaves. Some are calling for scrapping the July 2011 withdrawal date and for staying in Afghanistan indefinitely. Others are insisting that protections for civilians in the war zone should be loosened. But these vicious chest-thumpers are missing the point: Americans don't want more and more brutal war. We want our troops home, yesterday.
Prior polling had shown a strange dichotomy: Americans didn't support the Afghanistan War, but they approved of President Obama's handling of the war. The White House could wave away dismal polling numbers for support/opposition to the war by pointing to the high approval numbers for Obama's handling of the war, and Congress could hide behind "supporting the president." No more. Americans are fed up with this brutal, costly war.
Memo to politicians: Love the Afghanistan War in public at your peril.