Poll: Approval of Afghan War Slips, But U.S. Uneasy About Taliban Talks

Forces

In May the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan exceeded those in Iraq for the first time, nearing 100,000 in Afghanistan as the drawdown progressed in Iraq. Obama's increased the commitment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by more than 50,000 since taking office, including the much-awaited policy revamp he announced in a speech at West Point on Dec. 1. The deployment in Iraq, meanwhile, has declined from its peak of more than 170,000 in 2008.

Casualties likewise are up in Afghanistan and down in Iraq. U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan have jumped from fewer than 100 per year through 2006 to more than 300 in 2009 and nearly 250 so far year, including eight in attacks Tuesday night and Wednesday. In Iraq, U.S. fatalities have fallen from more than 800 a year through 2007 to about 150 in 2009 and fewer than 50 so far this year.

Politics

Republicans consistently have been more likely to support these wars, and that remains the case – 64 percent say the war in Iraq has been worth fighting, and 57 percent say that about the war in Afghanistan, compared with 29 and 36 percent, respectively, of Democrats.

But there have been crosscurrents in their directions as the wars have come under Obama's leadership. The number of Democrats who say the war in Iraq has been worth fighting has gained 17 points from a year ago, while unchanged among Republicans. And the number of Republicans who say the war in Afghanistan's been worth fighting has lost 14 points in the same period, while holding steadier among Democrats.

Still, out of eight issues tested in this poll, Republicans give Obama their highest marks for his handling of Afghanistan and Iraq – 35 and 36 percent approval, respectively, vs. no more than 19 percent on any other specific issue and just 15 percent for his job performance overall.

Voter Approval of President Obama's Handling of War Trending Downward

Approval of Obama's work on the situation in Afghanistan fell from 63 percent a few months after he took office – the honeymoon phase – to 45 percent last fall. It then rose after his war policy speech, largely with increased support from Republicans, to 56 percent this April. Now, as noted, it's turned back down, an 11-point drop to 45 percent.

Further, in April equal numbers of Americans "strongly" approved and strongly disapproved of Obama's work on Afghanistan. Now strong disapprovers are more prevalent, by an 11-point margin.

Increased violence isn't the only reason for this change; Obama's in a slump more generally, chiefly given public discontent with the economy, and there's a spillover effect. Violence is down in Iraq, but his approval rating for handling that war, 71 percent in the honeymoon period shortly after he took office, is down to 48 percent today – about the same as the drop in his overall approval in this period.

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