Afghanistan war: Stay until job is done, say majority of Americans

A TIPP/Monitor poll finds that a majority of Americans say the Afghanistan war is still important but lacks clarity about the goal. Last month's WikiLeaks episode didn't change their views.

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama (r.) walks from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, June 23 where he announced that Gen. Stanley McChrystal had been relieved of duty as top war commander in Afghanistan and would be replaced by Gen. David Petraeus (2nd l.).
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The leak of more than 91,000 classified Afghanistan war documents – accounts that gave an intimate and unvarnished look at the faltering campaign – appears to have virtually no effect on American public opinion, a new TIPP/Christian Science Monitor poll suggests.

Of those respondents who were at least somewhat familiar with the WikiLeaks story, 79 percent said the revelations did not change their support for the war one way or the other.

The poll offers both hope and caution to President Obama, who has persevered with the war despite strong criticism from many members of his own party.

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Some 69 percent of respondents said the Afghanistan war was important to US national security, with 36 percent of those saying it was very important.

Indeed, a majority of those polled rejected any deadline for withdrawal, with 57 percent saying a large-scale drawdown of US troops should occur only when conditions on the ground warrant.

Yet respondents also criticized Mr. Obama’s war plan. Only 27 percent said the administration had laid out clear goals for success. And only 9 percent supported a withdrawal date of next summer – the moment when Obama has promised to start bringing some troops home.

Indeed, the poll offers a nuanced picture of the partisan split over the Afghanistan war. Democratic opposition to the war reached its apex last month when more Republicans than Democrats voted to extend funding for the war. The 102 Democrats who voted against the bill was double the number who opposed a similar measure last year.

This moment of ambivalence is reflected among Democrats in America at large, according to the TIPP/Monitor poll. A plurality – 44 percent – favor withdrawing only when conditions on the ground warrant. But 39 percent of Democrats polled favor an immediate withdrawal.

With such thin margins, the WikiLeaks case appears significant. Some 22 percent of Democrats familiar with the leak –12 percent of all Democrats polled – said WikiLeaks decreased their support for the Afghanistan war.

Overall, however, 42 percent of respondents said they were not at all or not very familiar with WikiLeaks and therefore were not asked how it affected their support for the war. That means 87 percent of respondents were either not familiar with WikiLeaks or said it had no effect on their support of the war.

Indeed, among Republicans and independents, the WikiLeaks report had little effect, and support for staying the course in the war remains solid. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73 percent) and 60 percent of independents favor staying until conditions on the ground warrant a withdrawal.

The clearest partisan divide over Afghanistan was on the question of whether the Obama administration has set out clear goals for success. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans said he has not, followed by independents at 67 percent. But a plurality of Democrats – 44 percent – say that he has.

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