The Gallup Poll that Fox News has been featuring all day, and other networks have mentioned only sotto voce, has bad news for Barack Obama. Americans have reached a new low in their job optimism. Republicans are ahead in the generic ballot. The President’s own job approval is down.
None of this should surprise anyone who has watched this administration lumbering forward with what has become its signature combination of heavy handedness and incompetence. But one finding in the poll is particularly disturbing and not just for the White House. Only 35% of Americans now support Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan, while 44% want to reduce our troop strength there. In other words, the people of this country are beginning to bail on the mission.
Why has this happened? Partly because of Obama’s interminable dithering (yes, Cheney had him pegged) on the issue of troop levels. Indecision of this kind is itself a coded message and the country seems to have heard what the President is not saying. Americans have also defaulted to pessimism about Afghanistan simply because Obama has refused to rally them to the cause. Instead of making the defense of this war a priority and drawing on some of that homogenized eloquence of his to tell us repeatedly and with conviction why we fight, he has treated Afghanistan as a sort of intriguing puzzle he has not yet solved but will let us know when he succeeds. In the vacuum Obama has created, Joe Bidenism grows like some baleful polyp among our policy options and Mikhail Gorbachev seems to be reading our mind when he tells us we will never win. Scenarios for victory are overcome by scenarios of withdrawal–the most pernicious, defeatist, cynical and possibly prophetic of them involving making a deal with “moderate” elements of the Taliban as part of an exit strategy. They’ve learned their lesson and won’t let al Qaeda spoil their good thing again, leftist think tankers whisper. These moderate Taliban will rub out the drug lords, their moral opposite number, make the country’s pack animals run on time, and carry the country back to the 17th century where it won’t bother anyone again.
In the 2008 campaign, Afghanistan was Obama’s fig leaf—the “good” war while Iraq was the bad one; the war of necessity rather than the war of corrupted choice; the ball off of which Bush had taken the nation’s eye in his mad obsession with Saddam. By woofing on Afghanistan during the electoral season, Obama acquired national security credentials and appeared to outflank McCain on military matters from the right. Talking about Afghanistan allowed him to appear to be serious about protecting this country. It was a godsend.
But now it is a nuisance. And as President, Obama has created the cracks through which Afghanistan has fallen, thus jeopardizing the American soldiers putting everything on the line there every hour of every day. Whatever the number of additional troops he finally authorizes, the President has encouraged support for the war to dwindle. As the poll numbers rise of Americans who, having heard no strong defense from the White House for our sacrifice there, see no reason to remain, the President will have a perfect justification for calling it a day and echoing George McGovern’s “Come Home, America.” If this happens, there will be a sigh of relief from his leftist allies and from the terrorists who will now be able to return to their favored work station and resume the task of putting together plots to attack the Great Satan.