Is Afghanistan Impossible for Obama?

And does Obama have a clear plan in Afghanistan? Most Americans don't think so.

October 21, 2009, 7:46 AM

Oct. 21, 2009— -- Just over two weeks before a high-stakes runoff for the Afghan presidency, the Obama administration faces mounting pressure to decide on its Afghanistan strategy and whether or not to send more U.S. troops.

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, just 31 percent of Americans believe President Obama has a clear plan for dealing with the situation in Afghanistan, while 63 percent think he does not.

Watch George Stephanopoulos' analysis of the poll on World News with Charles Gibson, tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that the administration is not concerned by the poll results showing sliding public approval of the President's handling of Afghanistan.

Gibbs also suggested that "it's possible" the President could make a decision on Afghanistan strategy before the results of the runoff election are final.

But following an hour-long meeting with the President this afternoon to debrief his trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sen. John Kerry, D.-Mass., suggested deciding on a new strategy before the election is complete could be a mistake.

"I think you really want to know that this has worked and you want to know what kind of government is coming out of it," Kerry said. "I would absolutely counsel the president to wait until the end of the runoff."

Obama has been reviewing U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan with his national security team over the past several weeks. He has indicated any decision about a new strategy depends in large part on having a credible Afghan partner – which is still unresolved with the disputed Afghan election now headed for a runoff.

The administration's delay in settling on a new strategy comes as public support for the war continues to erode.

Obama, Under Pressure to Send More Troops, Sees Approval Fall

Nearly half of Americans surveyed, 47 percent, now say the war has not been worth fighting, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. And the question of sending more troops to Afghanistan brings the same stark divide: 47 percent of Americans favor a surge, while a sliver more – 49 percent -- say no.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has denied a rift between the Pentagon and the White House on the troops issue, but there is reason for the White House to be concerned.

With the insurgency in Afghanistan continuing to rage, U.S. service members are dying every day. One U.S. soldier was killed by an IED in southern Afghanistan overnight, bringing the total U.S. casualties in October to 30.

Obama is also facing more pressure from Republicans to send the additional forces that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanely McChrystal, and other military leaders have said they need.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an advocate for fulfilling McChrystal's request for more U.S. troops, told ABC News, "The longer we delay in sending the necessary additional troops, the longer it will be that our troops are unnecessarily in danger, in my view."

McCain has praised the upcoming runoff election , but said it is unrealistic to expect Afghan governance to improve significantly without improved security.

"It is essential to implement the properly-resourced counterinsurgency strategy that Gen. Stanley McChrystal and our senior commanders have called for," McCain said.

Gates, whose public statements suggest he also supports additional troops, says that discussions on the issue with NATO allies have moved forward even before the Afghan presidential runoff has occurred.

"I think my view all along has been we ought to do this in a way that if Gen. McChrystal has an additional set of needs, it should not be looked upon as exclusively the responsibility of the United States to respond," Gates said Tuesday night during a press conference in Tokyo, Japan.

Karzai's decision to support a runoff election – brokered chiefly by Sen. Kerry, after days of negotiations – could buy Obama some more time and play to his advantage.

"This is not an excuse for indefinite delay, but the significance of this decision that he's making now is as great as anything that Mr. Obama is likely to do his entire presidency," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. "We've got to try…and cajole and convince [Afghan] President Karzai to make some positive steps forward at this moment of leverage."

Kerry, who met with Karzai five times over five days prior to the announcement of a runoff, took a dramatic walk with the Afghan president around a Kabul mosque Tuesday. He apparently told Karzai of his own experiences in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, saying "Sometimes there are tough things and you just have to move on."

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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