By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
President Obama's deliberations over U.S policy toward Afghanistan are not helping the American electorate maintain confidence in his leadership. A new Rasmussen Reports national survey indicates that only 34 percent of American voters say the United States and its allies are winning the war on terror, a decline of nine points since October and 21 percent since January, when Obama was inaugurated.
Rasmussen also found that 29 percent of those surveyed "believe terrorists are winning that war" while 31 percent say it is a draw. "As recently as April," Rasmussen said, "28 percent said the terrorists were on top, but numbers consistently at that level haven't been seen since late 2007. The belief by 31 percent that neither side is winning is the highest such finding in at least three years."
Voters are also pessimistic about what the future holds, with 57 percent believing the situation in Afghanistan will get worse over the next six months, while only 13 percent say things will improve. The end of the uncertainty over whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai will remain in office may help things but, again, the U.S. performance in the aftermath of last month's fraud-tainted presidential election has not been helpful.
Despite the fact that Karzai was the clear leader in a 36-candidate field and limited evidence Karzai's candidacy profited from the fraud, the United States reportedly pressured the Afghan president into participating in a runoff election with the second largest vote-getter, former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
After Karzai agreed to participate in the runoff, however, Abdullah started making demands, including the establishment of a coalition government in which he would play a prominent role and a reported four-month delay in runoff election. Once the negotiations between the Abdullah and Karzai factions—which the United States attempted to broker—collapsed, Abdullah withdrew from the runoff, making Karzai the de facto winner.
The Obama administration, which had been critical of Karzai—who had the strong backing of former President George W. Bush in the years following the beginning of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan—accepted the outcome, but with resignation. Senior presidential adviser David Axelrod said on CBS's Face the Nation that polls showed Abdullah would have lost the runoff anyway, "so we are going to deal with the government that is there"—not exactly a ringing endorsement of the outcome.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama called Afghanistan the most important front in the war on terror, a phrase the administration now considers inoperative. His dithering in the development of a new policy for dealing with the Taliban is, the numbers suggest, undermining confidence in the U.S. mission there. These are scary numbers and they do not suggest the American people are willing to follow the president's lead on Afghanistan, no matter when he decides what to do.