Troop Escalation and Public Opinion

First — sorry for the long delay in posting. I’ve been on vacation working maniacally, and just haven’t had much time to blog. But now I have a brief window of daylight, and just wanted to offer a few thoughts on the question of escalation in Afghanistan.

My regular readers will know that I’m quite skeptical of the War there, mostly because I think the costs associated with prolonged involvement pretty considerably outweigh what potential benefit they might offer. Unfortunately for President Obama, between campaigning on escalation and conservatives who are poised to criticize Obama for anything short of meeting the exact demands of his top commanders, the political situation is fairly tricky (Stephen Walt has a nice summary here). But is it really that dire?

Via Matty Glesias, we see some Gallup polling that shows there might be some more wiggle room than an initial read of the politics would suggest.

As you can see, the public is more or less split unevenly between increasing troops by Gen. McChrystal’s recommendation and beginning to withdraw troops, a view despite obvious public support, hasn’t enjoyed much support within the Administration. Accordingly, this option hasn’t really been taken seriously within the public debate, but it seems that’s starting to the change.

More interesting though is the anemic support for increasing troops by a number less than Gen. McChrystal’s recommendation and maintaining the status quo. In light of this, a “compromise” option of adding troops at a lower level than requested doesn’t seem to have much of a political constituency. Since there hasn’t been much PR groundwork for a scale down, it would be a tough road, but it seems the political stakes lie actually between escalation and scale down. And as Matt Yglesias points out, most of the support for escalation comes from self-identified Republicans, so I’m not sure what pleasing this audience gets Obama politically.

Like I said, it would take a lot of PR groundwork — and probably a few high ranking officials willing to fall on the sword — but I’m optimistic about the options this polling opens up. Ultimately, it seems political interests and national interest might line up on this one.

 

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