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    South Asia
     Dec 10, 2009
'Surge' sends Obama soaring
By Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON - A poll released on Tuesday finds that support among the United States public for President Barack Obama's troop "surge" in Afghanistan has risen sharply since he announced it in a speech last week. However, it also found that a plurality of the US public does not believe Obama will follow through on his commitment to begin the withdrawal of US forces in 18 months.

The poll - released by the Quinnipac University Polling Institute - says that US voters' support for the war in Afghanistan has gone up by nine percentage points over the past three weeks; 57% of 

poll respondents say that fighting the war is the right thing to do while 35% disagree.

Approval of Obama's handling of the war has also risen considerably since a November 18 poll - in which 49% disapproved of the White House's handling of the war and 38% approved, with a 45% split approving and disapproving.

"I think the long period of deliberation has worked in the president's favor," Jim Fine, legislative secretary for foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker lobby group, told Inter Press Service. "Whatever decision he announced minimized the opposition."

Last week's announcement by the White House of a surge of 30,000 troops has received a lukewarm response from both Republicans and Democrats.

Many Democrats have expressed concern that the war might be unwinnable and that the White House may extend the withdrawal deadline, while some Republicans have said the withdrawal deadline could be a declaration of premature defeat.

"I believe the course the president outlined does offer the best path to stabilize Afghanistan and ensure al-Qaeda cannot regain a foothold to plan new attacks against us," said the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, at Capitol Hill hearings on Afghanistan. "I can say without equivocation that I fully support this approach," he said, putting to rest questions about two leaked diplomatic cables to the White House in which he expressed concerns about deploying additional troops to Afghanistan.

The US public approves 58% to 37% the administration's decision to deploy 30,000 troops and approves 60% to 32% the plan to begin withdrawing combat forces from Afghanistan in July 2011.

In a seemingly contradictory poll result, a 45% to 40% margin of respondents said they believe that Obama will be unable to meet that deadline.

"The dichotomy between the almost two-to-one support for setting a July 2011 date for beginning a withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan and the doubt that Obama will be able to deliver on that promise reflects a skeptical public about America's ability to triumph there," said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipac University Polling Institute.

But other experts argue that the numbers also suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the Obama administration's commitment to a troop withdrawal.

"The perception that this is a commitment to wind the war down in 18 months is a misperception," said Fine. "The 45% who say he'll miss that pledge are misperceiving that Obama promised anything substantial. As [Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates said yesterday, if they withdraw a handful of troops they would have met the deadline. It was clear from Obama's speech that this was the flimsiest of commitments."

When poll respondents were asked how long they would be willing to have large numbers of US troops in Afghanistan, 31% supported a US military presence for as long as it takes; 1% supported a presence of five to 10 years; 14% supported a presence of two to five years; 22% supported a presence for one to two years; and 27% supported a presence for less than one year.

"Public support is going to hinge on the perception of how effective the policy has been. [Levels of] casualties will certainly be a factor in public support or opposition," said Fine.

When asked if the US involvement in Afghanistan was headed in the same direction as US involvement in Vietnam, a majority of 57% disagreed with the characterization, while 32% agreed.

Obama's rollout of his war plan last week and his widely admired rhetorical skills seem to have boosted the public support for the war.

"History teaches that the bully pulpit can be a powerful tool for a president who knows how to use it, especially when it comes to foreign policy," said Brown. "The American people tend to rally around their presidents in military matters, at least for a while. It took some time for similar type speeches about Vietnam and Iraq by presidents Lyndon Johnson and George W Bush respectively to lose their ability to rally support."

While public attitudes in the US attitudes skew positively towards supporting Obama's long-awaited plan for troop deployments and withdrawal in Afghanistan, 66% of respondents think Obama doesn't deserve the Nobel Peace Prize and only 26% think he does deserve the prize.

The poll found that 41% of respondents believe the Nobel committee's choice to give Obama the award makes them think less of the prize. Even a relatively low number of Democrats - 49% - thought Obama deserved the award.

Indeed, many have commented on the contradictory situation facing Obama as he accepts the Nobel Peace prize, given that he has just launched a major deployment of US combat forces in Afghanistan.

"I think it's a very awkward position to be in. There were some who counseled that he should reject it. But that is without precedent and problematic as well," said Fine. "It would be hard to imagine worse circumstances to go to accept a Nobel Peace Prize."

The Gallup daily presidential tracking poll on Monday found Obama hitting a new low, with just 47% of Americans saying they approve of his job performance. According to Gallup, his approval rating has been below 50% for much of the time since mid-November, but briefly rose to 52% last week after he announced his new Afghan policy.

(Inter Press Service)

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Dec 7, '09

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Dec 7, '09



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