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Poll Shows Most Americans Oppose War in Afghanistan

Majority say conflict is not worth fighting

Image: U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan
Soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Combat Brigade 10th Mountain Division, based out of Fort Drum, N.Y., evacuate a wounded comrade in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009. (Photo credit: David Goldman / AP)

By Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen
Washington Post logo
August 20, 2009


A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Most have confidence in the ability of the United States to meet its primary goals of defeating the Taliban, facilitating economic development, and molding an honest and effective Afghan government, but few say Thursday’s elections there are likely to produce such a government.

When it comes to the baseline question, 42 percent of Americans say the United States is winning in Afghanistan; about as many, 36 percent, say it is losing. …

Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.

Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war’s strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies. …

Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six percentage points since last month and 10 since March. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent).

Opposition to the Iraq war reached similar levels in the summer of 2004 and grew further through the 2006 midterm elections, becoming issue No. 1 in many congressional races that year. …

Full report


5/29/2012 Update

West Point Is Divided on a War Doctrine’s Fate

Members of the class of 2013 at the United States Military Academy practice for coming military maneuvers in the field. (Photo credit: Suzanne DeChillo / The New York Times)

By Elisabeth Bumiller

May 27, 2012


WEST POINT, N.Y. — For two centuries, the United States Military Academy has produced generals for America’s wars, among them Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, George S. Patton and David H. Petraeus. It is where President George W. Bush delivered what became known as his pre-emption speech, which sought to justify the invasion of Iraq, and where President Obama told the nation he was sending an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan.

Now at another critical moment in American military history, the faculty here on the commanding bend in the Hudson River is deep in its own existential debate. Narrowly, the argument is whether the counterinsurgency strategy used in Iraq and Afghanistan — the troop-heavy, time-intensive, expensive doctrine of trying to win over the locals by building roads, schools and government — is dead.

Broadly, the question is what the United States gained after a decade in two wars.

“Not much,” Col. Gian P. Gentile, the director of West Point’s military history program and the commander of a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006, said flatly in an interview last week. “Certainly not worth the effort. In my view.”

Colonel Gentile, long a critic of counterinsurgency, represents one side of the divide at West Point. On the other is Col. Michael J. Meese, the head of the academy’s influential social sciences department and a top adviser to General Petraeus in Baghdad and Kabul when General Petraeus commanded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Nobody should ever underestimate the costs and the risks involved with counterinsurgency, but neither should you take that off the table,” Colonel Meese said, also in an interview last week. Counterinsurgency, he said, “was broadly successful in being able to have the Iraqis govern themselves.”

The debate at West Point mirrors one under way in the armed forces as a whole as the United States withdraws without clear victory from Afghanistan and as the results in Iraq remain ambiguous at best. …

But at West Point the debate is personal, and a decade of statistics — more than 6,000 American service members dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than $1 trillion spent — hit home. …

At West Point the arguments are more public than those in the upper reaches of the Pentagon, in large part because the military officers on the West Point faculty pride themselves on academic freedom and challenging orthodoxy. Colonel Gentile, who is working on a book titled “Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace With Counterinsurgency,” is chief among them.

Colonel Gentile’s argument is that the United States pursued a narrow policy goal in Afghanistan — defeating Al Qaeda there and keeping it from using the country as a base — with what he called “a maximalist operational” approach. “Strategy should employ resources of a state to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent,” he said.

Counterinsurgency could ultimately work in Afghanistan, he said, if the United States were willing to stay there for generations. “I’m talking 70, 80, 90 years,” he said. …

Colonel Meese’s opposing argument is that warfare cannot be divorced from its political, economic and psychological dimensions — the view advanced in the bible of counterinsurgents, the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual that was revised under General Petraeus in 2006. Hailed as a new way of warfare (although drawing on counterinsurgencies fought by the United States in Vietnam in the 1960s and the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, among others), the manual promoted the protection of civilian populations, reconstruction and development aid.

“Warfare in a dangerous environment is ultimately a human endeavor, and engaging with the population is something that has to be done in order to try to influence their trajectory,” Colonel Meese said.

In Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal so aggressively pushed the doctrine when he was the top commander there that troops complained they had to hold their firepower. General Petraeus issued guidelines that clarified that troops had the right to self-defense when he took over, but by then counterinsurgency had attracted powerful critics, chief among them Mr. Biden and veteran military officers who denigrated it as armed nation building.

When Mr. Obama announced last June that he would withdraw by the end of this summer the 30,000 additional troops he sent to Afghanistan — earlier than the military wanted or expected — the doctrine seemed to be on life support. General Petraeus has since become director of the Central Intelligence Agency, where his mission is covertly killing the enemy, not winning the people.

Now, as American troops head home from Afghanistan, where the new strategy will be a narrow one of hunting insurgents, the arguments at West Point are playing out in war colleges, academic journals and books, and will be for decades. (The argument has barely begun over whether violence came down in Iraq in 2007 because of the American troop increase or the Anbar Awakening, when Sunni tribes turned against the insurgency.) To Col. Gregory A. Daddis, a West Point history professor, the debate is also about the role of the military as the war winds down. “We’re not really sure right now what the Army is for,” he said. …

Full story


6/24/2014 Update


Full report


Related reports on this site

Image: U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division
U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, cajole an Afghan donkey to carry supplies to their mountaintop post in southern Afghanistan, in 2006. (Phot0 credit: Rodrigo Abd / AP file)

Senseless Waste of U.S. Taxpayer Dollars in Afghanistan (Aug. 31, 2011)

U.S. Taxpayers Help Fund Killing of U.S. Troops (Aug. 17, 2011)

Will U.S. Leave Afghanistan Failed State Ruled by Warlords? (Aug. 8, 2011)

Endless U.S. War Price Tag Hits $4 Trillion (June 29, 2011)

No Way Forward in Afghanistan (June 27, 2011)

Can U.S. Hold Afghanistan Gains? (March 9, 2011)

Afghanistan ‘Tom and Jerry’ War (Jan. 4, 2011)

One American Dies Every 18 Hours in Afghanistan (Jan. 1, 2011)

‘Limited Chance of Success’ in Afghanistan (Dec. 15, 2010)

Breathtaking Afghan Corruption (Dec. 2, 2010)

Afghanistan Worn-Out Welcome (Nov. 21, 2010)

Afghanistan War Cost Too High (Nov. 13, 2010)

Most Americans Oppose Afghan War (Aug. 20, 2010)

Support for Afghan War Plummets (Aug. 4, 2010)

WikiLeaks: Grim View of Afghanistan War (July 26, 2010)

Concerns Grow About Afghan War (July 17, 2010)

Afghanistan: Not Up to Snuff (June 28, 2010)

Afghanistan Tougher Than Iraq (Nov. 28, 2009)

Americans ‘Tiring’ of Afghanistan War (Sept. 25, 2009)

Afghanistan “Mission Failure” (Sept. 21, 2009)

Trillion-Dollar Wars Since 9/11 (March 30, 2009)

Decisive Victory in Afghanistan Impossible (Oct. 5, 2008)


2009 Afghanistan Presidential Election

At least 26 killed as millions of Afghans vote

Taliban militants cut off Afghan voters’ fingers

Burqa-clad women display ID cards as they queue to vote in Kandahar on Thursday.
Burqa-clad women display ID cards as they queue to vote in Kandahar on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009. (Photo credit: CNN — AFP / Getty Images)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago Today — August 20, 2008

On the Campaign Trail: Day 37

One year ago today, on the 37th day of my campaign against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann for the Republican nomination as House of Representatives candidate in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, I addressed national security issues, including the increasing sophistication of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to mount complex, coordinated attacks; and the precarious security situation in northern Iraq.

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