In a vacuum, I’d say the poll is stupid since everyone wants the troops home “as soon as possible.” But this isn’t a one-shot deal; they’ve been tracking the question since September 2008, and, well…
Three years ago, 61 percent favored keeping troops in place until the situation had stabilized versus just 33 percent who supported withdrawal ASAP. Last year the split had narrowed to 53/40; last month, right after the Bin Laden raid, the withdrawal contingent leaped ahead to a very narrow 48/47 lead, and now six weeks later it’s no contest. This isn’t the only recent poll showing major movement in public opinion on the war either. A few weeks ago, CBS found a massive 16-point surge over the past month in support of decreasing troop levels in Afghanistan. I don’t know how to explain the sudden spikes except as a slightly delayed reaction to killing Osama, which of course was one of the goals of the operation in the first place — convincing the public that the mission in Afghanistan, such as it is, has now basically been accomplished by turning the head of Al Qaeda into fish food. The fact that 51 percent also say they expect the U.S. to achieve its goals in the country and believe that the military effort is going “very well” confirms that people aren’t endorsing pulling out in despair and exasperation at Karzai but in the conviction that we’ve … sort of done what we came to do. Imagine their surprise if/when we leave and what’s left of Al Qaeda starts creeping back over the border.
According to the Times, Obama will most likely order a drawdown of all 30,000 surge troops by the end of next year, but the precise timetable for pulling them out won’t be revealed until tomorrow night. Now that he has license from the public to be more aggressive, he could play it one of two ways: Remove a sizable number of troops right now (as the Standard foresaw yesterday) or lay down the “all the surge troops out by 2013” baseline tomorrow and punt the mechanics to Petraeus. Or, actually, he could play it a third way, by ordering a limited withdrawal of, say, 5,000 troops immediately to satisfy doves and pair it with the 2013 withdrawal baseline, with the full timetable to be decided after further consultations with the Pentagon. That seems safe-ish and bound to make no one very happy, which is a hallmark of The One. Consider that my prediction. As for the GOP, eyeball the line in the data table above vis-a-vis people who agree with the tea party. The number in favor of withdrawal ASAP doubled in just a year. Where does that leave Republican candidates? I’ll leave with you two quotes that are on the wires right now; try to guess which would-be nominee said which. Quote one:
When asked whether he could support “taking out the surge troops.. by 2012,” [Candidate X] said: “I think that we need to transition into a counter-terror effort as quickly as we can.” But, what about getting troops out faster? “Definitely, get American troops out faster,” said [Candidate X]. “Transition into what would be more in line with intelligent- intelligence collecting, uh, special forces on the ground, some training needs obviously with the Afghan army, and that’s not a hundred thousand soldiers.”
Downright Biden-esque! And quote two:
In an hourlong interview, [Candidate Y] took a hawkish position at a time when prominent Republicans have publicly called for significant troop reductions and polls have shown increasing doubt among GOP voters that the conflict can be won. [Candidate Y] said he supported Obama’s 2009 troop surge but was “very disappointed that he also simultaneously announced the withdrawal deadline in the same speech.”
“It reflects a political thinking on his part, rather than allowing the conditions on the ground and a sharp definition of the mission to determine what we do next,” he said. “So I don’t think he should put arbitrary numbers and deadlines out there. I think you draw down the troops in Afghanistan as circumstances on the ground warrant.”…
“I wouldn’t be overly anxious to get the troops out of there until we have enough stability and capacity within the Afghanistan security forces to take up the slack,” [Candidate Y] said. “We need to make sure we do not send the message that we are leaving just because we’re tired or just because it’s too difficult.”