By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
After dithering for many months, President Barack Obama has finally decided on a course of action for Afghanistan. The new plan, to be announced Tuesday during a speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point, may be costly—but not perhaps as costly as the months of indecision have been.
According to the latest Gallup Poll, Americans are increasingly disappointed in the president's handling of events in Afghanistan. Only 35 percent say they approve of the way he is handling things there, down from 49 percent in September and 56 percent in July, an overall decline of 21 points in just four months.
The decline, which Gallup says is in double-digits across all party groups, represents the leading edge of an overall drop in support for the president and his policies since coming into office in January 2009. Moreover, the new Afghan policy, while not quite a half-measure, will likely do little to win him friends on either side of the aisle.
Among Republicans there is a sense that Obama may be sending fewer troops than are needed into a hostile environment. And, by clearly enunciating the exit strategy, the president is being reckless with the troops because he is unwilling to ignore domestic political considerations.
For Democrats, says Gallup, "a slim majority of Obama's fellow Democrats approve of his handling of the issue" but that the idea of sending additional troops anywhere, especially into this particular war zone, is unsettling. They remember, many of them do anyway, the way in which Lyndon Johnson's emersion of the U.S. military in South Vietnam derailed the promise of LBJ's presidency.
This likely explains how and why prominent Democrats like Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry and obscure backbenchers like New York Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey had surfaced to blame the problems in Afghanistan once again on George W. Bush.
By shifting the blame away from the current president to the previous one they are trying to buy him some political cover. It's a strategy that worked on the economy, one they now hope will help cushion the bad news that may be on the way.
The American people, who have been more forgiving of Obama's missteps and misstatements since coming into office, will likely hold him to a higher standard of accountability where Afghanistan is concerned, since his actions from this point forward are the product of such a publicly deliberative process.