Is Obama making a convincing case for the Afghan war?

The president must do a better job of telling Americans why the effort is central to preventing another 9/11, experts say.

Ahmad Massoud/ AP/ File
Gen. Stanley McChrystal (r.) salutes to soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 10.

Supporters of the war in Afghanistan are putting pressure on President Obama to make the conflict a higher priority in order to retain public support for it.

Healthcare reform and the economy have justifiably required much of Mr. Obama’s focus. But with the top US commander in Afghanistan poised to ask for more American troops, experts say Obama will have to make the case for Afghanistan more forcefully in coming weeks.

Those calls come as public support for the Afghanistan mission is waning – an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Aug. 19 shows that 51 percent of Americans believe the mission is not worth fighting for.

Within weeks, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will provide Mr. Obama with an assessment of Afghanistan. By next month, he will likely make recommendations for as few as 15,000 troops or as many as 45,000, according to reports.

Congress will look upon a request for more troops more favorably if Obama articulates a clear vision for why the mission is crucial to American security, Rep. Joe Sestak (D) of Pennsylvania, a former three-star admiral now running for a seat in the US Senate. He says he feels the administration has not adequately articulated its position yet.

“They shouldn’t have taken this long,” he says.

For the first time since 2003, the Pentagon is requesting more war funding for Afghanistan than it is for Iraq – $65 billion versus $61 billion, respectively. By the end of fall, there will be 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan, even before any additional requests form McChrystal. Yet strong public statements from the Obama administration have been few and far between until recently, critics say.

Last week he told a conference veterans in Phoenix that Afghanistan was a war of necessity, not choice, and reminded Americans that Al Qaeda is plotting to kill more Americans.

“Let us never forget,” he said, referring to 9/11.

He needs to keep talking, because the public has lost interest, says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J.

“People have simply forgotten about Sept. 11,” he says. “They no longer make the connection between it and Afghanistan.”

Professor Baker notes how effective the Bush administration was at “reawakening the concerns” people had over terrorism over and over – linking its war on terrorism with its foreign policy.

The Obama administration must make that link, too – and can, he says.

"There is a certain amount of denial" about what, if anything, the US should do about terrorism eight years after 9/11, he says. "What Obama has to do is turn it around."

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