Americans' Faith in Afghan War Fades

Forty-five percent of Americans do not think the Afghan war is worth fighting.


July 18, 2008 — -- The Pentagon and presidential rivals Barack Obama and John McCain all seem to agree on the need to send more troops to Afghanistan, but they are at odds with much of the country these days on the need to send more Americans into the lawless Afghan mountains.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that a startling 45 percent of Americans said they do not think the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting, despite the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which provoked the war in the first place.

The growing disenchantment with the Afghan deployment hasn't reached the level of national frustration with the Iraq war, but after more than six years with U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan and violence on the rise, Americans are becoming increasingly wary about the country's involvement.

Fifty-one percent of Americans now say that the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan has been unsuccessful, up from 24 percent in fall 2002.

Only 44 percent of Americans consider the war in Afghanistan a success, down from 70 percent in 2002.

The national poll of 1,119 randomly selected adults was conducted by telephone July 10-13, 2008, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

For Sholom Keller, a veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it comes as no surprise that support for the war in Afghanistan is fading.

"I'm not shocked at all that American support is waning," Keller told "If we are in Afghanistan because the U.S. was attacked on Sept. 11, then I want to see the perpetrators captured and brought to justice.

"If we're not finding them in Afghanistan, then I don't know why we're there," he added. "And if they are there I want to know why we haven't found them in the last seven years if they've been giving troops the right intelligence and missions."

Experts on the Middle East told that many Americans share Keller's frustration, blaming several factors, including the fatigue from hearing about not one but two wars, as well as pressing issues at home, such as the failing economy.

Judith Kipper, the director of Middle East programs at the Institute of World Affairs in Washington, D.C., said that the gap in the numbers this year compared with those from 2002 is "tremendous" but still understandable.

"It's battle fatigue," Kipper said.

"American don't want war; they know it's costing a lot and the worse the economy gets at home, the more people feel a lack of confidence in their daily lives," Kipper said. "The less confident they feel, the less likely they are to support foreign wars and adventures."

And while Kipper says Americans haven't forgotten the 9/11 attacks, the fear and shock that pervaded the country in the days and months following have since faded, just as American's interest in Afghanistan has.

"This is many years later and life goes on," Kipper said. "It's hard for Americans to relate to what happened years ago to their battle fatigue and war weariness now.

"[They care] about the problems that they're facing on a daily basis," she added.

The confusing nature of the war in Afghanistan — and the failure to locate Osama bin Laden — has contributed to American's already disillusioned vision of the war, Kipper said.

"Americans know Iraq is near the oil and they know a lot about Saddam Hussein, but Afghanistan is the end of the earth for most people," she said. "It's a very confusing issue; why we're still there and NATO's involvement."

But others — the presumptive presidential nominees included — believe that it would be worse to leave Afghanistan than stay, despite what the American public thinks.

"With Afghanistan, the reality is that McCain thinks this is in our national security interest," said Brian Rogers, a McCain campaign spokesman.

"People are frustrated with the lack of success and it's [the job of] the leader to make the case to American people as to why the fight in Afghanistan is a compelling national security interest."

The Obama campaign said, "Sen. Obama supports this mission, as he does not make decisions based on polls."

Charles Dunbar, the former head of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, told that while violence had risen in Afghanistan as of late, there is some good news coming out of the region, too.

Removing troops from Afghanistan now would only cause a larger terror threat in the future, he said.

"The Afghanistan story is not all being told; there is much more success in other parts of the country," said Dunbar, who now teaches international relations at Boston University. "I do recognize that the occasional suicide bombings are going to happen, and that's the news that is understandably going to influence the American public.

"This administration and the one that follows will need to make the case strongly that Afghanistan is a terrorist threat.

"They need to restore [Americans'] faith in the war in Afghanistan, particularly because Pakistan is a place where al Qaeda and others who are absolutely irreconcilable in our efforts to come to terms with the Muslim world are surviving under present conditions," he added.

Dunbar says he understands why Americans are losing faith in the U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, but still warns against allowing the problem to get even worse.

"It can be argued that we can't control [what's going on in Afghanistan] and we have to get out, but then we just have a bigger problem area," he said.

"Then we have just widened our problem."

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