The talk of Washington this morning is a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing strong disapproval of President Obama’s handling of the economy, which appears to be tied to increasing gas prices. His overall favorability has decreased to 46 percent, from 50 percent one month ago, and he’s now running even with Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
But there’s another crucial element here. President Obama is suffering a steep polling decline on his handling of the war in Afghanistan—mainly because people want to end the conflict now.
Obama receives a 46 percent approval rating on Afghanistan in the poll, conducted Wednesday through Saturday. This was before the shooting of Afghan civilians by an American soldier, but after a spate of bad news from the war zone, including Koran-burning protests and betrayal of American troops by Afghan government forces.
Of the four options presented (strongly or somewhat approve, strongly or somewhat disapprove), the plurality of answers come in the “strongly disapprove” category. This is the lowest support for the war has been in nearly a year—it was flagging until the United States killed Osama bin Laden last spring, but has now returned to previous levels:
When one dives deeper into the internals, it’s crystal clear that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of Afghanistan because they want US forces out of the country. Only 35 percent say the war is worth fighting, and 60 percent say it’s not. This is a steep decline from when the question was last asked, in June—and an overwhelming plurality of people, 44 percent, say they feel “strongly” that the war is not worth fighting:
Fifty-four percent of respondents said the United States should withdraw troops even if the Afghan Army is not adequately trained, while 43 percent say they should stay until training is complete.
That’s a somewhat loaded question, and yet those polled still favored withdrawal. Obama’s current strategic plan involves staying in Afghanistan until 2014, when training is (supposedly) complete—and senior military commanders are reportedly urging him to stay even longer.
But there’s pressure in the other direction, coming not only from Americans, as this poll shows, but from Capitol Hill. Late last week two dozen Senators, including two Republicans, sent a letter to Obama urging a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan:
We simply cannot afford more years of elevated troop levels in Afghanistan. We are spending roughly $10 billion in Afghanistan each month at a time when we’re making tough sacrifices at home. Your recent budget calls for $88 billion more for the war in Afghanistan in 2013. If this money is appropriated, we will have spent a total of $650 billion in Afghanistan. A majority of Americans worry that the costs of the war in Afghanistan will make it more difficult for the government to address the problems facing the United States at home. They’re right.
Remember, this poll and the pressure from the Hill came before this weekend’s awful shootings—which prompted even Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to question the American mission. The president’s position is increasingly becoming a lonely one.