Criticism of War Eases, but Still a Majority

VIDEO: Diane Sawyer speaks with General David Petreaus about U.S. strategy in region.
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Public opposition to the war in Afghanistan has eased from its peak, likely influenced by the killing of Osama bin Laden. But most Americans continue to say the war has not been worth fighting -- and nearly three-quarters favor a substantial withdrawal of U.S. combat forces.

Given the war's costs versus tis benefits, 54 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say it has not been worth fighting, a majority that has grown steadily since spring 2010 but that's down 10 points from its high, 64 percent, in March. Then 31 percent endorsed the war; it's 43 percent now.

Charts and Questionnaire

The survey, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, also shows a diminished bin Laden bounce for President Obama: His approval rating on handling the war had jumped from 44 percent in April to 60 percent in a Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll immediately after bin Laden's death. It's 52 percent now, halfway back. Still, disapproval, at 41 percent, has eased particularly among some of Obama's strongest critics -- conservatives, Republicans and Tea Party supporters.

Obama has a better rating, 60 percent approval, for handling terrorism more generally. Usually a comparatively strong area for him, this measure has followed a similar path -- up sharply after the killing of bin Laden (to 69 percent in the Post/Pew poll), now moving back down.

Withdrawal? -- There are challenges ahead: As was the case in March, 73 percent of Americans say the United States should withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer. Yet far less, 43 percent, think that will in fact happen.

Some of that disconnect between public preferences and anticipated policy may be built into current views of the war. But it underscores the risk to Obama if discontent regains its springtime level: The 2-1 criticism of the war in March matched long-running disenchantment with the Iraq war in 2006-2008, with devastating impact on George W. Bush's popularity in his second term.

Withdrawal is a hot topic; while Obama has set a summer deadline for a drawdown to begin, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus advised caution in troop reductions in an interview with Diane Sawyer in Kabul on Sunday.

Impacts -- Most Americans, 57 percent, say the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States. However far fewer, 25 percent, say it's contributed "a great deal," which is the kind of payback many want to see given the war's costs.

These views strongly impact support for the war overall. Among the relatively few who say it has contributed a great deal to long-term U.S. security, 71 percent say the war been worth fighting. Among those who say it's contributed to security, but not that much, support for the war drops to 54 percent. And among those who say the war has not improved U.S. security, just 16 percent say it's been worth fighting.

As for bin Laden, about half the public (48 percent) thinks his death will not change the level of threat to the United States posed by al Qaeda. The rest divide about evenly (24 percent versus 27 percent) on whether it makes al Qaeda less of a threat -- or more of one.

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