New Pew Poll on Afghanistan Shows Dwindling Support for the War

Even though more than three-quarters of Americans consider the Taliban a threat, an increasing number want Obama to start withdrawing troops.

The results of a new Pew poll on Afghanistan are both contradictory and befuddling, effectively channeling two principal characteristics of a war that will likely become the United States’ most snarled foreign policy conundrum of 2010.

The poll shows that even though 76 percent of Americans see a Taliban takeover of the country as a major threat to U.S. security, 43 percent favor pulling out all U.S. and NATO troops as soon as possible. The number of those advocating withdrawal has increased five percent in just three months (from 38 percent in June), while the ranks of those set on ‘staying the course’ shrank by seven percent during the same period.

Additionally, while a plurality of Republicans believe that the U.S. is doing a good job lowering the amount of civilian casualties, an increasing amount of Democrats and independents are beginning to believe just the opposite.

These findings, coupled with dwindling support among once-hawkish Democrats like Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), throw light on an issue that the Obama administration likely would have preferred to postpone until after the health care debate was settled: how long can the U.S. afford to stay in Afghanistan?

The data also raises the question of how public opinion aligns (or doesn’t align) with larger themes of American foreign policy. What does it mean that we seemingly (and simultaneously) support and disapprove of a war whose two central tenets are ‘attacking’ and ‘rebuilding’ -- a seemingly contradictory pairing?

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