Support for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low and President Obama's approval rating for handling it has declined sharply since spring – results that portend trouble for the administration as the violence there grows.
With Obama's surge under way – and casualties rising – the number of Americans who say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting has declined from 52 percent in December to 43 percent now. And his approval rating for handling it, 56 percent in April, is down to 45 percent.
Potentially complicating matters, the public by 51-37 percent opposes a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that would allow Taliban members to hold government offices if they agreed to stop fighting. That kind of deal commands far higher support in Afghanistan itself – 65 percent in an ABC News/BBC/ARD poll there in December.
As views on Afghanistan have grown darker, they've improved on Iraq, a clear indicator these conflicts are most popular when they're least intense. Just 42 percent say the war in Iraq has been worth fighting, essentially the same as for Afghanistan. But that's arrived from the opposite direction, up 8 points in the past year to the most since 2006.
Seventy-one percent support removing all remaining U.S. combat troops from Iraq, scheduled to happen by the end of next month; fewer but still easily a majority, 60 percent, support keeping up to 50,000 non-combat troops there in a supporting role.
In Afghanistan, 45 percent call Obama's plan to start withdrawing troops by next summer "about right," but an additional 31 percent say it should start sooner.
The key question about these wars is whether they've achieved their fundamental goal – improving long-term U.S. security – and the lukewarm answers underscore their challenges winning broader support.
Fifty-three percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has improved the long-term security of the United States – a majority, but hardly an overpowering one. Fifty percent say the same about the war in Iraq. And many fewer – 25 percent in both cases – say these wars have done "a great deal" to contribute to long-term security, a weak result given their costs in lives and lucre.
It matters: Among people who say the Afghanistan war has improved U.S. security, 68 percent also say the war has been worth fighting. In Iraq, among those who see security gains, 72 percent say that war's been worth it. Among those who see no security gains, however, the sense that these wars have been worth fighting plummets to 14 percent in Afghanistan, 10 percent in Iraq.
Along similar lines, those who view the wars as worth fighting are far more likely to want to keep American forces in Afghanistan beyond Obama's intended withdrawal starting next summer, and to oppose removing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of next month.